Court Dismisses Charges Against Pro-Life Pastor Witnessing on Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2010   |   4:53PM   |   Washington, DC

A trial court has dismissed the charges Oakland city officials placed on pro-life Pastor Walter Hoye for violating a new law created with the sole intention of stopping him from helping women at abortion centers.

Hoye was found guilty of violating what pro-life attorneys call an unconstitutional city law used specifically to prevent providing information to women outside abortion centers. Oakland officials had enacted the law that appeared to be directed at Hoye, a black pastor.

Hoye says the new law is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech and he was charged under it  in early 2009.

Just three months ago, an appellate court overturnedPastor Walter Hoye’s criminal conviction for violating Oakland’s so-called “Mother May I” law restricting sidewalk counseling. In a jury trial in 2009, Hoye was found guilty of two counts of unlawfully approaching women seeking abortions at an Oakland abortion clinic; the court sentenced him to 30 days in jail and an $1100 fine.

Hoye was represented by Life Legal Defense Foundation attorneys Katie Short and Allison Aranda and volunteer attorney Michael Millen.

In its published opinion, the Appellate Division of the Alameda Superior Court agreed with Hoye’s attorneys that the trial court had erred and granted Hoye a new trial.

The case was remitted back to the trial court on September 24 and, in the appellate court’s decision, Hoye was supposed to be brought to trial within thirty days of that date. When the time lapsed, Millen asked the court to dismiss the case.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office concurred with Millen’s evaluation of the case and the court promptly ordered all charges against Hoye dismissed.

“We are pleased that Pastor Hoye is no longer under threat of further prosecution on these charges,” Short told today. “This is only one side of the battle, however. We now await the Ninth Circuit’s decision on our constitutional challenge to the ordinance under which he was prosecuted.”

A decision in the federal case is expected in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Hoye is elated by the decision and he looks forward to this long-awaited opportunity to return to the public sidewalk outside the Oakland clinic to share his life-saving message.

In August 2009, federal district court judge Charles Breyer ruled the law constitutional and set the stage for an appeal and a battle at the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court next month.

In a 25-page memorandum opinion, Breyer held that the ordinance, which applies only outside abortion businesses, was not content- or viewpoint-based on its face. Breyer also ruled that the law is narrowly tailored, even though it prohibits someone giving a brochure on abortion alternatives to a woman entering an abortion center. [related]

At the time, Mike Millen, an LLDF attorney, said he was very disappointed by the ruling and its free speech implications.

“Mark this day down,” Millen told at the time. “On this day, a federal court judge ruled that it is constitutional to put someone in jail for a year for holding out a hand with a leaflet.”