Civil Disobedience and the Necessity Defense Vehicle Habitation Legal Fund

And why the need for a Necessity Defense Vehicle Habitation Legal Fund?

By some estimates millions of Californians still find themselves unemployed or underemployed despite a reported uptick in our economy.

As it stands, over 1 million Californians have lost all unemployment benefits and it may in fact be years before we see the light of day on any real job recovery on a state or national level.

Never-the-less, our present day economy has forced many families to live on streets across America in their vehicles and the city of Palo Alto is no exception.

This has given rise to some in the community of Palo Alto to voice their concerns of vehicles parked overnight in their neighborhoods prompting city officials to consider an outright ban on overnight vehicle habitation.

Over the past two years, the city of Palo Alto in a shared community outreach effort has engaged all city vehicle habitation dwellers and their major stake holders to come up with a plan or ordinance which satisfies the needs of all concerned.

Palo Alto’s police Chief Dennis Burns recently presented questionable data on the actual number of vehicle dweller complaints, but failed in presenting any comparable data on the number of calls for service on unruly bar patron’s or for that mater any other calls for service.

This fact alone has many vehicle dwellers claiming fool play to the existence of any real problems at all.  They feel it’s the affluent vs. disenfranchised or “not in my neighborhood” mentality and reminiscent of racial segregation calls of the 60’s .

Some have even gone as far as to believe that Chief Dennis Burns presented the equivalent of “filing a false police report” to the Policy and Services Committee claiming by his personal appearance alone, “Stacked the Deck” against the vehicle dwellers.

They also claim city attorney Molly Stump in collaboration with the chief, ordered members of the press banned from covering public discussion on city government property.

All designed some further contend, without the benefit of any real transparency and open government to quietly enact a new city ordinance designed to purge the disenfranchised off the streets of Palo Alto prompting one civic watchdog and civil rights attorney Aram James to release the following statement:

“I don’t want the city jamming this draconian ordinance down the throats of the unsheltered community–and at this point this is how they are using the Eugene Ordinance–as a threat i.e., either develop and take responsibility for a Eugene like program–or we will be forced to oppose  this oppressive ordinance.

Given my limited time and particular skill set –I will continue to focus my energies on educating CCT members (community cooperation team)–and others in the unsheltered Community–on possible legal strategies to consider–necessity, nullification–and maybe constitutional challenges.”

The history of America is enshrined in acts of civil disobedience.  From the civil rights movement of the 60’s to the modern day Occupy Movement that has taken the U.S. by storm by highlighting the many social injustices impacting the working class.

For this reason we have decided to launch and establish a Necessity Defense Vehicle Habitation Legal Fund designed to defend vehicle dwellers against the city of Palo Alto through legal representation should the city of Palo Alto enact a specially designed ordinance to rid its’ disenfranchised vehicle dweller off the city streets of Palo Alto.

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?. . . . . . If the injustice [of the machine of government] has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” -Henry David Thoreau-

If you wish, you may contribute to the Necessity Defense Vehicle Habitation Legal Fund any amount will be welcomed by utilizing the “Donate” feature located on the front page of Palo Alto Free Press allowing your contributions to civilly stop this seemingly unjust city planned ordnance.  You will receive an email acknowledgement of your contribution in addition to a quarterly statement of all monies held in trust.

To assist our readers to understand why the need for “Necessity Defense” and it’s history, the following is being provided……..

A Brief Case Look at necessity defense.

‘Freedom of expression in a free society includes freewheeling public dissent on controversial political issues of the day. Civil disobedience is a form of protest that, while usually peaceful, involves violating the law—usually by trespassing on government property, blocking access to buildings, or engaging in disorderly conduct.

Civil disobedience has been called “the deliberate violation of law for a vital social purpose.”1 In their day in court, civil disobedients have at times sought to interpose the necessity defense to justify their conduct.

The necessity defense asserts that breaking the law was justified in order to avert a greater harm that would occur as a result of the government policy the offender was protesting. Protestors will seek to invoke the necessity defense not so much to gain acquittal from the relatively minor charges, but to advance the more important objective of publicly airing the moral and political issues that inspired their act of civil disobedience.

There is the hope of gaining notoriety for a cause by discussing it in court, and “educating” the jury about political grievances or other social harms. The strategy is meant to appeal to a higher principle than the law being violated—the necessity of stopping objectionable government policies—and to let the jury have an opportunity to weigh their technically illegal actions on the scales of justice.

Acquittal is of course hoped for in the end but may be quite low on the protestors’ list of priorities. The necessity defense is attractive to reformers who practice civil disobedience because it allows them to deny guilt without renouncing their socially driven acts. It offers a means to discuss political issues in the courtroom, a forum in which reformers can demand equal time and, perhaps, respect. Moreover, its elements allow civil disobedients to describe their political motivations. In proving the imminence of the harm, they can demonstrate the urgency of the social problem.

In showing the relative severity of the harms, they can show the seriousness of the social evil they seek to avert. In establishing the lack of reasonable alternatives, they can assault the unresponsiveness of those in power in dealing with the problem and prod them to action. And in presenting evidence of a causal relationship, they can argue the importance of individual action in reforming society. Thus, the elements of the necessity defense provide an excellent structure for publicizing and debating political issues in the judicial forum.

The goal of describing their political motivations to the jury, and implicitly to the media, is subject to numerous hurdles inherent in the necessity defense. In most instances, as we will see, courts will rule as a matter of law that the actors have failed in the offer of proof regarding the elements of the necessity defense so that the jury rarely is given the chance to weigh in on the matter.

On the other hand, if the defense is allowed, the jury is called upon to weigh controversial political issues and to function as the “conscience of the community.” “Reflected in the jury’s decision is a judgment of whether, under all the circumstances of the event and in the light of all known about the defendant, the prohibited act, if committed, deserves condemnation by the law.”

In cases where judges have been persuaded to allow the necessity defense, juries have, often enough, delivered not guilty verdicts. This article will first examine the nature of civil disobedience, and distinguish between direct and indirect civil disobedience. Part II highlights some historical examples of civil disobedience.

Part IV then examines the principles of the necessity defense, analyzing each of the elements that make up the defense, illustrated with cases on point. Next, Part V will turn to an analysis of several abortion-protest cases that raise issues different from other types of civil disobedience cases. Part VI then will examine Viet Nam era civil disobedience cases. Following that, Part VIII will explore a unique defense known as the Nuremberg Principles defense.’

Civil Disobedience and the Necessity Defense

Draconian Pending City Ordinance

Implementation of the necessity defense in case of criminalization of homelessness

Necessary Defense from ending the threat of nuclear war

Why a fundamental understanding of jury nullification is so critical to taking back our criminal justice system

Article up-dated:

2 Replies to “Civil Disobedience and the Necessity Defense Vehicle Habitation Legal Fund”

  1. Dear Editor:

    You have penned an excellent starter piece that will add substantially to the thought process and planning that should lead to a full community discussion….We all need to stand together to fight off the proposed Draconian ban on people living in their vehicles.

    The first logical step in combating this attempt to marginalize and demonize our homeless brothers and sisters is to come up with alternatives to homelessness—alternatives that don’t involve criminalizing activities, such as living in one’s vehicle as a necessary option to living in the streets.

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