Skip to main content

Activist gets 5 months for giving out pamphlets at Casey Anthony trial

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Mark Schmidter violated a judge's orders
  • He is sentenced to serve 151 days in jail
  • His attorney says he will appeal

(CNN) -- An activist who handed out pamphlets outside the Orange County courthouse during the Casey Anthony trial was sentenced to five months in jail, his attorney said Wednesday.

Mark Schmidter, who belongs to a group known as the Fully Informed Jury Association, had been handing out the pamphlets at the Orange County, Florida, courthouse and other locations since September 2010, according to his defense attorney.

"He's got a project where he hands out leaflets, giving information about jury service," defense attorney Adam Sudbury told HLN's "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" on Tuesday after his client's sentencing. "Judge (Belvin) Perry passed a couple of administrative orders in the context of the Casey Anthony case that touched on my client's activities, and as a violation of those orders, he was found in contempt."

The administrative orders were aimed at preventing jury tampering and establishing free speech zones at the courthouse. In the first order, in January, Perry -- Orange County's chief judge -- prohibited the distribution of leaflets to prospective or actual jurors on courthouse property and prohibited influencing jurors. A subsequent order banned all free speech activities at the courthouse except in designated "exempt zones" about 200 feet away.

Schmidter was charged win indirect criminal contempt on June 29 for violating the orders. According to court records, Schmidter's defense acknowledged that he had previously been warned, but said Schmidter did his own research and decided that he was not violating the orders because he was not advocating for a specific verdict in a specific case.

Perry on Tuesday sentenced Schmidter to 141 days and 151 days for violating the orders and set the sentences to run concurrently.

Sudbury said Tuesday his client's sentencing was "absolutely not fair. It's a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech."

"We were prepared for a guilty judgment from Judge Perry because no one reasonably believed he would find his own orders unconstitutional," Sudbury said Wednesday. "But the length of time to me was shocking. How much more chilling can you get than a person being put in jail for 151 days for handing out leaflets at the center where justice is handed out? It is an affront to liberty."

He said he immediately filed a notice of appeal on Schmidter's behalf.

The Fully Informed Jury Association works to enact legislation that would allow jurors to vote their conscience and acquit defendants if they disagree with the law under which they are charged.

After a highly publicized trial, Anthony, 25, was acquitted in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. She was sentenced to four years in jail for her convictions on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to police but was given credit for the time she has served. She was released from jail earlier this month.

In Session's Aletse Mellado contributed to this report.