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Trial to start for woman facing riot charge: Here’s what defense is not allowed to say

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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — On the eve of a federal trial related to a May 2020 protest, a federal judge has restricted what defense lawyers can argue.

Jury selection slated to start Monday in the case, which has been viewed nationally as a test for how aggressively the U.S. Justice Department can prosecute crimes arising from protests. Tia Deyon Pugh, 21, stands accused of impeding law enforcement officials in a manner that impacted interstate commerce.

Mobile police arrested Pugh after the May 31 demonstration in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died under the boot of a Minneapolis police officer. Authorities accused Pugh of using a baseball bad to smash the window of a police vehicle. Several days later, federal prosecutors filed a federal charge.

U.S. District Judge Terry Moorer sized with prosecutors on a number of pretrial issues that will limit what defense attorney Gordon Armstrong may argue during the trial:

Any reference to state charges on misdemeanor charges. Prior to the federal charge, local authorities charged the defendant with inciting a riot and criminal mischief. Both are misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors argue that is irrelevant to the federal trial.

Any argument that the federal statute under which Pugh was charged is “rarely used,” “rarely invoked,” “seldom invoked” or any similar language. Armstrong has made much arguments in public and in court filings. But prosecutors argued that would be improper at the trial.

“Such arguments would not only be factually inaccurate, but would also be a thinly-veiled attempt to seek jury nullification, which is entirely inappropriate,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Any reference to the legislative history of the anti-riot law under which Pugh is charged. In seeking to have the charges dismissed, Armstrong detailed the Senate debate over the proposal that eventually became law. He focused on racist rhetoric of then-Sen. Russell Long, a Louisiana Democrat.

That would be irrelevant for the jury to consider at trial, prosecutor argued.

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