Retaliatory Election Fraud Prosecution

July 26, 2016

Rev. Edward Pinkney is a longtime community activist in Benton Harbor who has waged crusades against gentrification and what he regards as abuses of power by the Whirlpool Corporation and emergency managers assigned to the city.  His activities have earned him the animosity of the local power structure, and he has been the target of criminal prosecutions for acts alleged to have occurred while engaged in politics. 

Several years ago, for example, the ACLU of Michigan represented Rev. Pinkney when he was sent to prison for writing a newspaper editorial that criticized a local judge and condemned the criminal justice system as racist.  Most recently, Rev. Pinkney helped coordinate a campaign to recall the city’s mayor, whom Rev. Pinkney and others believed to be a stooge of the emergency manager and the other forces Rev. Pinkney has challenged through the years. 

Although enough signatures were collected on recall petitions to put the issue on the ballot, the election was cancelled based on allegations that the dates next to the petitions’ signatures were illegally changed.  The finger was pointed at Rev. Pinkney, and in 2014 he was tried and convicted of election fraud by an all-white jury that was permitted to hear irrelevant and inflammatory evidence of Rev. Pinkney’s political activities. 

In 2015 the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Court of Appeals arguing that Rev. Pinkney’s conviction should be reversed, and in 2016 we participated in oral argument.  We argued that that allowing the jury to hear irrelevant evidence about Rev. Pinkney’s controversial but legal political activism violated the First Amendment and his right to due process, and that Rev. Pinkney was charged with engaging in conduct that was never clearly defined by the law as constituting a felony offense. 

Unfortunately, in July 2016 the Court of Appeals affirmed Rev. Pinkney’s conviction.  He is seeking leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

(People v. Pinkney; ACLU Attorneys Mark Fancher, Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg.)

View the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket.