“Mistaken belief” acquits Collins
Rich Collins' conviction for trespassing at Shopper's World during his unsuccessful run for Richmond last year has been overturned. Albemarle Circuit Judge Paul Peatross ruled October 10 that Collins' sincere, though mistaken belief that he was allowed to exercise his First Amendment rights and pass out campaign literature at the privately owned Shopper's World, even after he was repeatedly asked to leave on May 7, 2005, was enough to "negate criminal intent for the purposes of a conviction after his arrest and detention," opined Peatross.
Collins was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing nearly a year ago on October 24, 2005, in general district court. Earlier this year, Peatross rejected Collins' civil suit against Shopper's World June 14, 2006, and that case is under appeal.
"At the end of the [criminal] case, I thought he was going to rule that day in my favor," says Collins. "What was persuasive was the video. My version was confirmed by the video."
(The video was not shown in Collins' first trial, and his defense attorney, Steve Rosenfield, filed a complaint with the Albemarle police accusing them of not turning over the tape. When Chief John Miller pointed out that the existence of the videotape was noted on the police report and overlooked both by Rosenfield and the commonwealth, Rosenfield issued a written apology.)
"The judge made the decision he thought correct and we were disappointed he didn't decide it for us on the legal issue," says Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Moore. One of the problems, believes Moore, is that there are no other similar Virginia cases.
Though Collins is acquitted, the court warns him not to try distributing leaflets on private property until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. The good-faith defense won't work again.