While he seems to have largely dropped out of the news, most of you likely remember Jason Kessler from the spectacularly epic fail of an event he attempted to organize in Washington last month. But before that, he was at the center of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville the previous year where one woman was killed by a white supremacist who rammed his car into a crowd. Less noticed in the wake of that tragedy was the press conference Kessler attempted to hold a few days later. An angry crowd chased him from the scene, with a couple of people throwing punches at Kessler as he attempted to flee.
One of those individuals was brought to trial and convicted earlier this year and now his appeal has failed. But the jury seemed to be sending a message of their own when it determined that his punishment would include no jail time and a fine of one dollar. (WaPo)
A man convicted of assaulting a white nationalist two days after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year was fined $1 on Tuesday.
Jason Kessler, a white nationalist and organizer of the Unite the Right rally, fled a press conference on Aug. 13, 2017, two days after 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer was allegedly run down by another white nationalist, after he was swarmed by an angry crowd.
After Kessler fled, Jeffrey Winder of Charlottesville was charged with assault and battery, and prosecutors said he could be seen striking Kessler in a video. Winder was found guilty in Charlottesville General District Court in February, as the Daily Progress reported, and found guilty again Tuesday in Charlottesville Circuit Court after an appeal.
Though Winder could have received up to 12 months in jail and $2,500 in fines from a jury, he received a $1 fine.
Kessler has become something of a punchline, but that doesn’t make this type of jury decision right. This was little more than a coded message, telling Mr. Winder that he technically broke the law, but since he was assaulting an unpopular figure, he would be let off with a wink and a nod. This is no different than the case from June of this year when a jury awarded four dollars to the family of a man shot and killed in his garage by police.
As a side note, I noticed a couple of people discussing this story on social media and asking whether it was the jury making the decision or if the judge set the sentence. If you read the local coverage of the story it’s made clear that this was left up to the jury.
Anyone is free to disagree with Kessler, hurl insults at him or even hate him. But that doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to assault him. If our legal system doesn’t believe that simple assault is still a crime which needs to be prevented and prosecuted when it happens, then the police should stop making arrests for it and the laws should be struck from the books. But the fact is that punching someone in the face when they are not attacking or threatening you is a crime and we prosecute crimes. It’s particularly important to send the message that you are not allowed to assault someone engaging in unpopular or even hateful speech as part of the legal system’s duty to protect the unpopular speech itself.
Perhaps the real problem here stems from the sentencing guidelines. There are maximum penalties specified – in this case, up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine – but no minimums. Is there really ever a case where you can punch someone in the face and have the penalty be essentially nothing? If so, why bother convicting or even prosecuting them to begin with?