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First Amendment Win: Charges Dropped Against Journalist Amy Goodman in North Dakota

Criminal B Misdemeanor charges of rioting were dropped against journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! as judge found lack of probable cause.
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Journalists and free speech advocates the world over breathed a sigh of relief on Monday as a North Dakota judge dismissed criminal charges levied against the veteran journalist for her reporting during last month’s conflict at a Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) construction site.

The State of North Dakota had initially charged Goodman, the award-winning reporter who created and hosts the 20-year-running news program Democracy Now!, with criminal trespass for being on hand when dogs and pepper spray were used against water protectors on September 3. Forced to drop those charges for lack of evidence, Prosecutor Ladd Erickson had asked for them to be changed to rioting.

RELATED: Watch: Democracy Now! Bears Witness to Dog and Pepper Spray Attack on Protectors

Judge John Grinsteiner, citing a lack of probable cause, declined to sign the state’s complaint against Goodman, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“It is a great honor to be here today,” Goodman said outside the courthouse as Democracy Now!cameras rolled. “The judge’s decision to reject the state’s attorney Ladd Erickson’s attempt to prosecute a journalist—in this case me—is a great vindication of the First Amendment and of our right to report.”

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Goodman expressed relief, and vowed to continue to “fight to ensure that the First Amendment is protected,” she told the Bismarck Tribune, while her attorneys maintained that the charges were without merit.

"It was never a case. The trespass charge was frivolous," said her attorney Tom Dickson, according to the Bismarck Tribune, adding that the rioting charge "was beyond salvation."

More than 200 people agreed, showing up to the courthouse to support Goodman while she was inside, then breaking into raucous cheers and war whoops when she emerged to announce the outcome. The Bismarck Tribune reported that Goodman was one of six people facing charges, and Grinsteiner only found probable cause to charge one of them.

Erickson had characterized Goodman as a “protester” rather than a journalist, prompting journalist Matt Taibbi, among others, to write an open letter to the prosecutor in Rolling Stone. Defense of Goodman’s—and all journalists’—First Amendment rights came from quarters as diverse as Vogue and The Nation.

Democracy Now! broadcast this development in the DAPL conflict as it has been doing since the water protectors began gathering. See her announcement and the crowd’s reaction below.