ACLU Asks Appeals Court to Remove Restrictive Conditions on Minister's Bond

January 29, 2009

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked the Michigan Court of Appeals today to remove the harsh and unconstitutional bond conditions imposed on the Benton Harbor minister who was sentenced to prison for writing a newspaper editorial criticizing a Berrien County judge.

In December, the appeals court ordered Rev. Edward Pinkney released from prison while his case was on appeal and ordered the trial court to set the “amount” of bond he should pay. However, Berrien County Court Judge Dennis Wiley did more than set the amount of the bond -- he put Rev. Pinkney on 24-hour house arrest, banned Rev. Pinkney from giving speeches including in his own church, and told him not to engage in any "demeaning" behavior.

"The Court of Appeals granted Rev. Pinkney's request to be released on bond because he had strong First Amendment grounds for appeal, he wasn't a flight risk, and he's not a danger to the community," said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. "But the trial court's order completely undermined the Court of Appeals' decision because now Rev. Pinkney is under house arrest and can't exercise basic constitutional rights."

Rev. Pinkney, associate pastor at the Hopewell Baptist Church, is also the founder of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO). He has long been an outspoken community activist and advocate, frequently denouncing injustice and racial inequality in Benton Harbor, its local government, and the Berrien County criminal justice system in particular.

In 2007, Rev. Pinkney was sentenced to probation for violating Michigan election law. But his probation was revoked and he was resentenced to 3-10 years in prison solely because of an article he wrote for a small Chicago newspaper. Quoting a passage from the Bible, Rev. Pinkney predicted that God would punish the judge unless he "hearken[ed] unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe [and] to do all that is right." Rev. Pinkney also expressed his opinion in the article that the judge was racist, dumb, and corrupt.

In representing Rev. Pinkney on appeal, the ACLU of Michigan argued that the statements Rev. Pinkney made in his newspaper editorial, while offensive to many, are clearly protected speech under the First Amendment. On December 18, 2008, the Court of Appeals granted Rev. Pinkney's motion for bail and ordered him released upon posting bond in amount to be set by the Berrien County Circuit Court. Rev. Pinkney was released from prison on December 24, 2008. The Court of Appeals is expected to decide the case on its merits later this year.

In addition to Steinberg, Rev. Pinkney is represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys James J. Walsh and Rebecca O’Reilly of the law firm Bodman LLP.

To read the ACLU's Motion to Vacate or Modify Conditions of Bail, click here.
To read the ACLU's merits brief in Rev. Pinkney's appeal, click here.
To read the Court of Appeals' order, click here.
To read Rev. Pinkney's article, go to: http://www.peoplestribune.org/PT.2007.11/PT.2007.11.18.html

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