The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP says Wake County prosecutors have dismissed criminal charges against more than 50 people Wednesday who were arrested last year while protesting at the state legislature.
NAACP President William Barber said prosecutors told defense lawyers representing people arrested at a Moral Monday protest on May 20 are being dropped. Barber said the cases were dismissed after two protesters tried Tuesday were acquitted by District Court Judge Joy Hamilton.
"It's exposing the Constitutional irregularities in these prosecutions against people simply exercising their First Amendment rights," Barber said.
More than 930 people were arrested last year at weekly nonviolent protests over conservative legislation enacted by Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly. Nearly all were charged with second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse and violating legislative building rules.
Barber said 31 defendants have been acquitted so far, with 26 found guilty on at least one misdemeanor charge and typically sentenced to pay a modest fine. All of those found guilty at bench trials in district court are exercising their right under state law to retry their cases before a jury in Superior Court.
"We believe the rest will be won on appeal," Barber said.
A total of 57 people were arrested on May 20. Beyond the two acquitted, it was not immediately clear whether any of the remaining 55 cases had been disposed of prior to Wednesday's mass dismissals.
District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he did not know the exact number of cases tossed, but said questions had been raised about whether there was sufficient evidence to win convictions on the cases from that particular date. Willoughby said his office plans to move forward with the remaining cases.