Court shuts down defense attempt to contest her Israeli bombing conviction in prosecution for making false statements on naturalization application.
The trial of Rasmieh Odeh, an American citizen of Palestinian descent convicted in Israel decades ago of involvement in a terrorist group (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) that bombed a supermarket in the late 1960s, starts November 4.
Odeh was convicted in Israel, but now claims she was tortured into confessing.
The U.S. government is prosecuting Odeh for failing to disclose the conviction when she applied for naturalization.
Several key rulings came down in Court this afternoon (full embeds to be added at bottom of post:
- In what is possibly the most devastating ruling against the defense, the Court granted the government’s motion to reconsider a prior ruling on what types of intent the government needed to prove. The court had ruled that the government needed to show that Odeh made a false statement for the purpose of obtaining citizenship. The judge corrected that ruling, finding that “in order to establish the intent element of the instant offense, the Government need only prove Defendant made a false statement knowing it to be false.” The prior ruling had been viewed as damaging to the prosecution, since it is hard to prove why someone made a false statement.
- In light of the ruling on the type of intent the government needed to prove, the Court rejected Odeh’s request to present evidence that at the time she filled out the naturalization application, she suffered from PTSD. “In light of the Court’s decision concerning the mens rea required for proving a violation of § 1425, the Court must deny Defendant’s Motion for Offer of Proof, which seeks to admit the testimony of a clinical psychologist concerning her conclusions with respect to Defendant’s defense related to post-traumatic stress disorder. It is well settled that this type of defense is inadmissible to negate the mens rea of a general intent crime, thus the expert’s testimony is irrelevant to the issues herein and inadmissible at trial.”
- The Court rejected Odeh’s request for a jury questionnaire. “Defendant has failed to come forward with any evidence, nor even explain why this Court’s usual practice of conducting voir dire is insufficient to uncover juror biases or other reasons precluding suitability to serve on Defendant’s jury. This failure, coupled with the lack of extensive pretrial publicity, leads the Court to conclude that a jury questionnaire is unwarranted under the circumstances present here.”
- The Court will not allow Odeh to put the merits of her conviction in Israel into issue in the current case, even though the court viewed as credible her claim that she was coerced into confessing. “The Court of course agrees that confessions obtained through the use of torture and rape are antithetical to the concepts of fairness, due process and basic human rights. Moreover, the Court accepts as credible Defendant’s claims of torture and is not unaffected by the inhumane circumstances of her detention in the West Bank. However, the issue here is whether Defendant provided false answers on her Visa and Naturalization Applications. The validity of Defendant’s conviction is not an issue for the jury’s determination. As the Court noted during the hearing in this matter, it will not be retrying Defendant’s convictions for membership in an unlawful organization and her activities related to the bombings of the Supersol grocery store or the British Consulate in Jerusalem in the early part of 1969.” As we previously wrote, there is evidence other than the confession to support the Israeli conviction.
- The Court ruled that Israeli records may be used to prove the conviction, pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. “The Government maintains that the documents at issue were produced in accordance with the Treaty, do not require further authentication and are admissible. The Court agrees.”
- The Court will allow the government to introduce the specific charges of which she was convicted in Israel. “As such, contrary to Defendant’s arguments, the specific crimes for which she was convicted in 1969 are directly relevant to the materiality element of unlawful procurement of naturalization…. Lastly, Defendant’s contention that the unfair prejudice resulting from the admission of the specifics of her conviction outweighs the relevance of her convictions is without merit. Her conviction for participating in the bombing of the SuperSol grocery store and the building housing the British Consulate are directly related to the elements of materiality and procurement. The probative value of this evidence is overwhelming. Without this evidence, the Government will be unable to establish two elements of the crime of unlawful procurement of naturalization.”
- The Court ruled that the government may not use the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” as those terms are prejudicial. That’s not much of a victory considering the bombing conviction can be admitted in evidence. “The Government’s suggestion that the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” will not improperly influence the jury because those terms are used by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act is without merit. These terms are highly prejudicial and create a danger of improperly influencing the jury’s verdict. The Government will still be able to establish the elements of materiality and procurement without using these terms. As previously discussed, Mr. Pierce is free to testify that Defendant’s conviction for bombings render her ineligible to immigrate under the Immigration and Nationality Act. As such, if she had disclosed her 1969 conviction, she could not establish her eligibility for citizenship because she was not lawfully admitted as a permanent resident. Based on the foregoing considerations, Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence preclude the admission of the terms “terrorist,” terrorist group” and “terrorist activity” and Defendant’s Motion is granted.” (In a separate footnote to one of the other rulings, the Court noted that the defense also could not refer to herself as a freedom fighter.)
Odeh has requested a delay of the trial. As of this writing, there has been no ruling on that.
The mainstream media is focusing on the bar of the terms “terrorist” and terrorism,” but as demonstrated above, that ruling is meaningless.
All in all, these rulings are devastating to the defense. The government now only needs to introduce evidence of her convictions in Israel and her application in which those convictions were not disclosed. The defense cannot counter with claims that the convictions were wrongful, or that she suffered any form of PTSD as a result of her alleged coercion.
Couple this with protections the Court has put in place to protect jurors from influence by pro-Palestinian activists, and there doesn’t seem to be any viable defense.
But that’s what they said about O.J. Simpson.
[Featured Image: Rasmieh Odeh at earlier arraignment before Judge Paul Borman, who recused himself.]DONATE
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