Friday, September 24, 2010

People v. Hoye (App. Div. - Sept. 22, 2010)

What does "approach" mean?

A municipal statute allows peaceful picketing at an abortion clinic -- which is protected First Amendment speech in any event -- but doesn't allow a person to "knowingly approach" within eight feet a potential clinic client without consent and with the purpose of harassing, interfering, or counseling such person.

Walter Hoye gets charged with violating the statute on multiple occasions. There were multiple different offenses and factual settings, and the defendant had a variety of defenses, including his argument that in at least a couple cases, he was simply standing still when others came up to his position. (He couldn't constitutionally be convicted if that's all he was doing on those occasions.)

The jury eventually sent a note that asks what "approach" meant. The trial court responded that it wasn't defined by the ordinance and had its ordinary meaning. The jury convicted on all counts, apparently believing the prosecution's witnesses over the defendant's.

The Appellate Division of the Alameda Superior Court reverses, holding that the jury must have been expressly told that "approach" doesn't include standing still, and that saying that the word has its ordinary meaning doesn't qualify.

Whatcha think? Would a jury think that knowingly "approaching" a person included standing still?