June 24, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Can You Ever Rightfully Break the Law?

Wawayanda -- Upstate, NY, Orange County.

Coming off of Hoops Road you make a left onto Route 6 to make your way home. 30 seconds after getting on Route 6, traffic in both ways is at a standstill. Drivers get out of their cars to get a look up ahead. A man with a John Deere hat and flannel is talking to a woman in an Alexandre Vauthier double-breasted pinstriped skirt suit; a pick-up is bumper-to-bumper with a Tesla; a loose lamb that wandered from the R&P farm is happily lapping at hoarfrost on the roadside.  And you sit there for almost 40 minutes. It was December.

Up the road, where the Competitive Power Ventures Energy Center plant is located, there is a protest being led by the famous actor, James Cromwell (e.g.:  American Horror Story: Asylum -- Dr. Arthur Arden/Hans Gruper). James was obstructing cars from entering the plant’s construction site, by chaining himself and two other people and sitting in the middle of the driveway. That is what caused the traffic jam on Route 6.

The State Troopers arrived on the scene, arrested James and five others, and were all charged with disorderly conduct for acts of civil disobedience at the same construction site at the same time.

The Trial:

Direct Examination of Defendant

Q: What do you do for a living, sir?

A: Actor and activist.

Q: You make a living as an activist?

A: Well, no, I live my life as an activist.

Q: I see. And why did you chain yourself to the driveway with the others there at the plant?

A: It is my opinion, as informed by significant research, that stopping the construction of the power plant was of critical and imminent importance to public health and safety and that is what had motivated my act of civil disobedience.

Q: You knew you were breaking the law?

A: Oh, yes. And we have expert witnesses who will testify about the health and environmental threats that the ultimate operation of the power plant would pose.

PROSECUTOR: OBJECTION. I move to strike the entire answer except for, “Oh, yes.” And I ask that the witness be admonished. He won’t stop.

COURT: That objection is SUSTAINED. Sir, please just answer the questions that are asked. You must listen to me, sir.

A: Well, I just think…..


A: Yes, Your Honor. (Witness gestures zipping mouth closed).

Q: Why did you break the law?

A: The threats posed by the power plant were profound and related not merely to the exacerbation of global warming, but also to more localized effects on public health and safety.

Q: Nothing further at this time.



PROSECUTOR: You knew that your protest would cause traffic?

A: I figured.

PROSECUTOR: And in fact there was a lot of traffic?

A: Yes, I saw that.

PROSECUTOR: And the traffic lasted for about three quarters of an hour?

A: Seemed like that.

PROSECUTOR: And that people were in standstill traffic for that time?

A: Yes.

PROSECUTOR: And that made no difference at all to you?

A: It was for their own good.

PROSECUTOR: And you determined that because you had conducted significant research?

A: Yes.

PROSECUTOR:  Sir, you knew that you were breaking the law?

A: Indeed.

PROSECUTOR: Nothing further, Your Honor.


Closing Arguments: Justification by Necessity

 During summations, Cromwell’s attorney argued that the act of civil disobedience was justified by necessity. Meaning, whether Cromwell reasonably believed that criminal action was necessary to avoid a harm more serious than that sought to be prevented by the disorderly conduct statute.



The Justice Court found that, although global warming is a threat to the environment and is "a more serious harm than a relatively brief disruption of traffic at the entrance of a construction site," defendant was not entitled to the defense of justification by necessity, as a matter of law, because his act of civil disobedience was not reasonably calculated to actually prevent the harm presented by the construction of the power plant, and he failed to show that he had no reasonable alternatives to breaking the law.

Moreover, the harm Cromwell had sought to prevent lacked the immediacy required by the statute since, at the time of the act of civil disobedience, the power plant was not operational and was years away from completion. While the court noted that there was no doubt that Cromwell had acted under the belief that his action was necessary and justified, it concluded that the exercise of a person's own moral judgment does not render that person immune from criminal liability, particularly where the harm sought to be prevented is remote and not imminent.


The Sentence:

The court found Cromwell guilty of disorderly conduct and he was sentenced to pay a fine in the amount of $250. CROMWELL REFUSED TO PAY!

Cromwell was then resentenced to a seven-day term of imprisonment since he had refused to pay the fine.

Cromwell goes to jail.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_29178.htm

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