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Heckling – A Felony in California?

On February 8, 2010, Israeli Embassador Michael Oren was to give a speech at the University of California in Irvine. The room was packed with more than five-hundred people. As Embassador Oren started to give his speech, on four separate occasions, individuals in the audience stood up and shouted. He was drowned out. He eventually walked off the stage. Embassador Oren, after a period of time, returned to the stage. On six additional occasions, he was heckled to the point of being prevented from giving a speech to the audience. On each occasion he was heckled, campus police escorted the individual that was heckling Embassador Oren out of the auditorium.

The University of California in Irvine suspended the ten students who heckled Embassador Oren. The students were members of the Muslim Student Union. The heckling was an organized event by the Muslim Student Union.

District Attorney Convenes a Grand Jury

Tony Rackauckas, the Orange County District Attorney, has convened a grand jury for the purpose of indicting the students. In the event an indictment is handed down by the grand jury, each of the students will be charged with a felony. This has raised questions as to whether heckling is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

University of Berkley Law Professor Jesse Choper has stated, “I think it is quite clearly accepted that there is no First Amendment right to shout down the speech of another, especially in an organized talk.” The university community in Irvine is pressing the District Attorney’s office not to charge the students with criminal offenses.

Carol Sobel is the attorney representing the students. The students have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. In a recent interview on the California public radio, she stated that grand juries are rarely convened to deal with misdemeanor charges. She is concerned that the District Attorney’s office is considering indicting the students for conspiracy based on the theory that their heckling the Israeli Embassador was planned in advanced. The Muslim Student Union denies these allegations.

Freedom of Speech

The Law Office of Elliot S. Schlissel can represent you if you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor. Should you be facing a grand jury indictment, it is important to be represented by an experienced criminal attorney. In addition, our law office represents individuals charged with possession of drugs, domestic violence cases, juvenile criminal matters, as well as driving while intoxicated cases. We help our clients with both violent crimes and white collar crimes. Call us if you need assistance at 1-800-344-6431; 516-561- 6645 or 718-350-2802.

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