Thursday, January 20, 2005

United States v. Bichel (9th Cir. - January 14, 2005)

Someone please explain this one to me. I just don't get it. And I don't mean the holding, which seems entirely reasonable. Rather, I can't fathom why the case is on appeal in the first place.

Father William Bichsel is a 75-year old Jesuit priest who chained himself to the doors of the United States courthouse in Tacoma, Washington in order to protest the war in Iraq. A federal marshal asks Father Bichsel to unchain himself and he refuses to do so. The marshal gets some bolt cutters and asks him again, Father Bichsel again refuses, so the marshal cuts the chains and arrests him for disobeying the lawful order of a federal police officer. Father Bichsel gets convicted at trial and sentenced to five days in jail.

All this makes sense to me. What I don't fathom is why Father Bichsel files an appeal instead of simply serving his five days -- an appeal that has nothing whatsoever to do with the war in Iraq or the necessity defense or anything like that, but is instead some hypertechnical argument about why he should get off because during his 6:30 a.m. protest, the federal regulations that governed the courthouse were only posted inside (rather than also outside) the courthouse doors. This is why we conduct civil disobedience? To make a statement about the precise definition of "conspicuous posting" pursuant to 41 C.F.R. sect. 102-74.365?

You break the law and you serve your time with pride. Okay, maybe sometimes you also try to get off by rallying the jury behind the importance and validity of your cause. But, in my mind, what you don't do is waste everyone's time by having a public defender paid for by the state raise hypertechnical defenses that have nothing whatsoever to do with the reasons for why you did what you did.

To me, an appeal like this merely trivializes the importance of the cause, which was the whole reason for the decision to conduct civil disobedience in the first place.