After a week of hearings in which she challenged prosecutors on the strength of their evidence against nine members of the Hutaree Christian militia, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts reversed a magistrate judge’s earlier ruling denying bond to the accused and ordered all of the accused members of the group released on bond while awaiting trial.
Making clear that the court was not determining guilt or innocence on the part of the Hutaree 9, Judge Roberts said that the only issue before the court was “whether conditions of bond can be set which will reasonably assure both the Defendants’ appearance in Court as required, as well as the safety of the community.”
“Nonetheless,” the judge said, “the weight of the evidence the Government has against Defendants is an important consideration. In fact, the seriousness of the charged offenses, the weight of the evidence, and whether the Defendants are a danger to the
community, are inextricably intertwined; the Court’s own Pretrial Services Agency, which makes bond recommendations, concluded that but for the seriousness of the offenses charged, the Defendants are all people it would normally recommend for release on bond.”
In evaluating the government’s case against the defendants, Judge Roberts noted, as she had during last week’s hearings on the bond decision, that the defendants will likely have at least a reasonable argument to make for First Amendment protection for their admittedly extreme expressions of hatred for the government unless the government can show that their words carried with them a threat of “imminent lawless action.”
“The Court need not decide now,” the ruling states, “whether Defendants will be able to raise a First Amendment defense. However, the Defendants do raise principled arguments concerning the First Amendment protection afforded, even to speech we hate.”
Thus, “For the reasons stated, the Court finds: (1) Defendants met their burden to produce evidence in favor of release; and (2) the Government failed to persuade the Court that Defendants must be held until trial.”
Judge Roberts did set a number of very strict conditions on the bond. All defendants will be confined to their homes and have monitoring bracelets that track their location at all times. They must surrender all licenses to carry weapons and submit to random checks from Pre Trial Services. The conditions also include a ban on all alcohol and drug use. Each defendant is also required to surrender their passports and is forbidden from using a police scanner.
Perhaps most interestingly, the order requires them to provide a full list of all Hutaree members and a list of any other militia member with whom any of the defendants associates or knows, and forbids them from having any contact with any of those people or with one another without legal counsel present.
There are also individual conditions for some of the defendants, including a ban on the use of computers for Hutaree leader David Brian Stone. All defendants are released to the custody of a particular person, most close relatives, and those custodians must also surrender all weapons to the police.
There is one rather amusing condition, however. Judge Roberts requires each of the defendants to “seek and maintain employment.” Yeah, that’s gonna happen. Nothing caps off an interview more successfully than saying, “Oh by the way, I may need some time off for a trial on charges of killing cops and trying to start another civil war. Hope that’s not a problem.