Berkeley ditches plan to strip nude suspects of jury trials

Wednesday, June 17, 1998

The Berkeley, Calif., city council voted last week to table a proposal by the city attorney that would have ended jury trials in prosecutions under the city's anti-nudity ordinance.

The 1993 law makes it a misdemeanor to appear nude in public. The city attorney was seeking to amend the ordinance to allow police to charge people appearing naked in public with an infraction–the equivalent of a parking ticket– rather than with the more serious charge.

However, the reason for the lessening of the punishment was not to lighten the sentences, but to avoid review by jurors who often refuse to convict individuals under the law, according to the X-plicit Players, a self-described “naked, psychedelic performance group.”

The anti-nudity law took center stage in the community in 1996 when a jury acquitted two members of the group of nudity charges.

Marty Kent, a director of the group, said: “The city attorney refuses to understand or recognize that our activities are protected by the First Amendment. This proposed change in the law was a not very subtle attempt to dissolve the constitutional protections of a jury trial.”

Deb Moore, another director for the group and one of the two individuals acquitted in the 1996 case, said: “I am shocked and appalled at the city attorney's flagrant disregard for First Amendment rights of free expression.”

At least one member of the city council recognized the First Amendment implications of the law. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that council member Kriss Worthington said at a news conference last week: “It is supremely ironic that the city of Berkeley, which is thought of as an international center of free speech and free spirits, should have the most repressive law on public nudity in the state of California.”

The city attorney refused comment to the First Amendment Center, simply noting that the proposal had been tabled by the city council.