Federal Judge Denies First Amendment Challenge to Philly ISIS Prosecution

By Austin Nolen

A federal judge has denied a constitutional challenge to the prosecution of Keonna Thomas, a Philadelphia woman charged with providing material support for a terrorist organization, who allegedly attempted to fight for the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria. In a motion filed earlier in November, Thomas’ defense team had argued that the prosecution violated her First Amendment rights.

Thomas’ lawyers claimed that she only advocated for the Islamic State on Twitter, and that even if the government could prove she planned to travel to Syria, it was merely to live in the caliphate declared by ISIL, not to provide the organization with illegal support. Thomas’ defense team argued that all of these actions were protected by the First Amendment, and so the case should be dismissed.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office opposed the motion, arguing that

“the government should be given the opportunity to prove at trial that Thomas attempted to provide unlawful material support to ISIL through conduct including her plan and attempt to travel to Syria in order to support, fight with, and martyr herself on behalf of ISIL.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson agreed with prosecutors. He ruled that the trial, not a motion to dismiss, would be the proper time for the government and defense to dispute Thomas’ intentions. Baylson also rejected other claims by the defense, including procedural claims that the indictment was faulty.

The rejection of Thomas’ motion means that her trial, currently scheduled to begin on June 1, 2016, will proceed. Thomas is currently being held without bail in the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center.

The Declaration will continue to cover this case as it proceeds.

The motions and opinion this story concerns can be viewed below.

Motion to Dismiss:

Opposition to Motion to Dismiss:

Opinion Denying Motion to Dismiss:

There are 3 comments

  1. Sally G

    I wish that the grand jury in Cleveland—and the one in Ferguson—in were so concerned with case being heard in open court! This cherry-picking has got to stop!


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