Woman Convicted After Laughing at Jeff Sessions Gets New Trial

Sixty-one-year-old Desiree Fairooz was found guilty of disruptive or disorderly conduct, but a judge has ruled the government made inappropriate arguments during the trial.

Jul 14 2017, 4:59pm

Screengrab via Twitter

A judge has thrown out a jury's guilty verdict for Desiree Fairooz, the 61-year-old activist and retired children's librarian who was convicted of disruptive and disorderly conduct after she laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' January 10 Senate confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Fairooz, a seasoned protester who was at the Capitol with the women-led organization Code Pink, was being removed from the room by a rookie officer for laughing when she began to yell and resist officers attempting to escort her out of the room. In May, she was convicted on one count of disruptive or disorderly conduct and one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing. She was facing up to one year in jail.

After the verdict, the jury foreperson told the Huffington Post: "She did not get convicted for laughing. It was her actions as she was being asked to leave."

Read more: People Keep Getting Thrown Out of Sessions' Hearing for Calling Him Racist

But prosecutors had a different story: In closing arguments, Justice Department lawyer David Stier claimed, "Laughter is enough" for a criminal charge.

This morning, according to the Huffington Post, Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ruled that the government made inappropriate arguments in the course of the trial, saying that Stier's claim in particular was "disconcerting." Indeed, in the weeks following Fairooz's conviction, her case went viral, with headlines like, "Is Laughter a Crime?"

The laugh heard round the internet took place during Alabama Senator Richard Shelby introduction of Sessions in a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing. "Unfortunately, since the announcement of his nomination, Jeff's political opponents have attacked his character with baseless and tired allegations," Shelby said, apparently referring to Sessions's well-publicized history of hostility toward civil rights groups. "Jeff's extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented."

It was at this point that Fairooz chuckled, or let out what Stier called "loud bursts of laughter." In an interview in May, Fairooz told Broadly, "It was a laugh of disbelief and disdain, like, I can't believe this guy is saying that," referring to Sessions as a "horrible candidate."

As officers attempted to forcibly remove Fairooz from the hearing for laughing, she shouted, "Why am I being taken out of here? This man is evil! Pure evil! Do not vote for Jeff Sessions! I was going to be quiet, now you're going to have me arrested? For what? For what? He said something ridiculous! His voting record is evil!" She was by far not the only person removed from the hearing.

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In advance of Fairooz's sentencing, which was scheduled for this week, Michigan Representative John Conyers wrote a letter to the judge to question "the application of the law" in the case, saying, "As the Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, I take seriously breaches of decorum in Congress. However, in this instance, the finding of guilt under these particular circumstances raises questions that should counsel leniency with regard to sentencing."

A new trial is set for September 1.