The trial of gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi will resume on Thursday in federal court in Washington D.C. The former Iraq War vet and graduate of West Point is going to trial to face charges that stem from a November 2010 arrest for chaining himself to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The trial, which began in August 2011, has been on hold for more than a year over procedural disputes. The prosecutor initiated a highly unusual procedure known as a Writ of Mandamus that successfully overturned a ruling by the judge allowing Choi’s attorneys to argue that Choi was targeted for “selective” and “vindictive” prosecution.
Choi appealed the ruling barring him from using a selective and vindictive prosecution defense, but lost his appeals to higher courts.
At the White House protest, Choi and 12 other LGBT activists and supporters were charged with disobeying a lawful police order to disperse from the White House fence after each of them attached themselves to the fence with handcuffs.
British activist Peter Tatchell will attend the hearing in support of Choi and will also act as human rights observer. In a press release Tatchell said Choi is facing extra scrutiny because of his history challenging the federal government:
Generally, White House protestors are arrested and required to pay $100 fine to a municipal court, the equivalent of a parking ticket in the District of Columbia. Instead, in this case, the US Attorney’s Office is invoking a seldom-used federal level criminal charge called “Failure to Obey”.
Choi’s case is the first time since anti-Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan was prosecuted, that a protestor has been tried federally for demonstrating at the White House.
The trial Judge, John M. Facciola, has already made a prima facie finding for “vindictive prosecution” in Lt. Choi’s case, prompting the prosecution to make legal history by pausing the trial for two years and embroiling Lt. Choi in a Writ of Mandamus fight.
Until this trial, such a radical and rarely used writ has never been granted in the middle of criminal proceedings. The writ orders the trial judge not to hear evidence concerning the selective prosecution and political targeting of the defendant.
Activists and supporters are planning peaceful actions in support of Choi on Thursday morning. Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are expected to make appearances in support of Choi, according to Choi’s supporters.