News and Commentary

CA Court Dismisses 14 of 15 Charges Against Pro-Life Activists Who Exposed Planned Parenthood

The two pro-life activists behind the undercover video exposé on Planned Parenthood’s gruesome “aborted baby body part” trade celebrated another legal victory this week. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Superior Court dismissed 14 of the 15 felony charges brought against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt by the Planned Parenthood-supported attorney general of California.

As the Daily Wire reported in March, the trumped up charges were brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has received thousands of dollars in donations from the “victim” of the video sting operation, Planned Parenthood. The 15 charges Becerra brought against the pro-life journalists were so over-the-top that even the left-leaning Los Angeles Times condemned them as a “disturbing overreach” that could prove detrimental to future similar journalistic investigations (see below).

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Superior Court agreed with the defendents, at least on 14 of the 15 counts. Despite the dismissal, the court did leave the door open by giving Becerra until mid-July to file a revised complaint. Life News reports:

The court ruled that counts 1-14 were legally insufficient. The state has the opportunity to amend if it can plead a more legally sufficient and specific complaint. The California’s Attorney General filed 15 criminal counts against Merritt, with counts 1-14 for each of the alleged interviews and count 15 for an alleged conspiracy. San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite gave the state attorney general’s office until mid-July to file a revised complaint.

One of the attorneys representing Merritt, Mat Staver of LibertyCounsel, told Life News that the dismissal of almost all of the “unprecedented” charges was a “huge victory,” not just for Merritt and Dalieden but for “every journalist who provides valuable information to the public.” Staver expressed confidence that the final conspiracy charge “will also fail.”

Life News provides more details about the Liberty Counsel’s defense of Merritt:

Liberty Counsel argued that the criminal complaint for illegally recording supposedly “private” conversations (in restaurants, hotel lobbies and other public places) – the first ever filed against undercover journalists – was legally deficient for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the Attorney General’s decision to prosecute Merritt in secret proceedings, without identifying even the names of her accusers or purported “victims.” The complaint did not provide Merritt with the minimum notice required by the Constitution and California law as to what she supposedly did wrong, so that she can mount a proper and vigorous defense. The complaint was also vague and full of inconsistencies.

Much of the Liberty Counsel’s argument aligns with its unlikely ally in the case, the Los Angeles Times. Below is an excerpt from the Times’ condemnation of Beccera’s “disturbingly aggressive” actions against Dalieden and Merritt:

It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be. …

In similar cases, we have denounced moves to criminalize such behavior, especially in the case of animal welfare investigators who have gone undercover at slaughterhouses and other agricultural businesses to secretly record horrific and illegal abuses of animals. That work, too, is aimed at revealing wrongdoing and changing public policy.

That’s why the state law forbidding recording of conversations should be applied narrowly, and to clear and egregious violations of privacy where the motive is personal gain.

Dalieden and Merritt were also targeted legally in Houston, but all of the similarly over-the-top charges were ultimately dismissed.

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