The City of New York has dropped charges against protesters wearing balaclavas, thereby preventing the protesters' attorneys from challenging the state's anti-mask statute that dates back to 1845.
The Times reports that the three women arrested while protesting in solidarity with the punk band Pussy Riot outside the Russian Consulate this past summer no longer face violations of N.Y. Penal Law § 240.35(4), which prohibits "being masked or in any manner disguised" while congregating with other masked individuals. Exceptions exist for "entertainment," such as masquerade parties and Halloween.
The City chose to dismiss those mask charges "in the interest of justice," which is "a legal move that can be used by prosecutors to dismiss a charge without addressing arguments made by an opponent." However, the women still face charges of disorderly conduct.
Norman Siegel, the attorney for the three women, had planned on arguing that the women's masks were integral to their speech, given that the members of Pussy Riot also donned balaclavas when illegally performing in a Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Siegel tells the Times that despite this setback, he and other attorneys are “committed to challenging the legality of the anti-mask laws in peaceful protest situations where the mask conveys a particularized message and is integral to that message.”
In other First Amendment-related news, the four Occupy Wall Street protesters who faced felony charges for participating in an illegal party inside an unfinished condo in Williamsburg last January have accepted a plea deal that will sentence them to 105 hours of community service and a $500 fine.
Reports vary as to how violent the protesters got—The Post reports that three NYPD officers were injured—but the protesters were charged with riot, assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. “I hope that they continue what some call ‘the good fight,’ but in a less violent manner,” an Assistant DA told the paper.