WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Attorney Sanjay Patel, the lead prosecutor in the Washington, D.C., FACE Act trials – which have seen eight pro-lifers convicted and already imprisoned, with a ninth awaiting the judge’s verdict – penned an influential law review article last year detailing how the federal government could use “conspiracy” charges to maximize penalties against pro-lifers, whom he labeled “anti-abortion extremists.”
Patel has since become the point-man for Biden’s targeted persecution of pro-life Americans, executing in the D.C. trials his as yet untried proposal to combine FACE violation charges with a “conspiracy against rights”offense in order to set defendants up for a potential 11-year prison sentence.
Prosecuting pro-lifers by combining FACE with ‘conspiracy against rights’
The law review article, written by Patel in March 2022 for the DOJ Journal of Federal Law and Practice, titled “Face-Off with Anti-Abortion Extremism: Criminal Enforcement of 18 USC 241,” instructs federal prosecutors on strategies to maximize penalties against pro-lifers in the wake of the government’s decision to leverage the FACE Act to intimidate, charge, and jail peaceful citizens standing up against abortion.
In the article Patel suggests using laws intended to charge violent hate crimes, such as those perpetrated by the KKK, to indict and charge pro-lifers for daring to protect from murder the defenseless unborn baby, whom Patel in the courtroom more than once referred to as a “would-be child.”
“Although criminal conspiracy offenses are usually charged under 18 U.S.C. § 371… FACE Act offenses should be charged under 18 U.S.C. § 241– conspiracy against rights,” Patel wrote.
Arguing for the advantages of using the “conspiracy against rights” law, Patel gave three reasons why government prosecutors should prefer it when targeting pro-lifers:
First, unlike a section 371 conspiracy, a section 241 conspiracy conviction is always a felony, even when the underlying substantive violation would be a misdemeanor. Second, section 241 violations are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment; or up to life or the death penalty, if certain aggravators apply. And third, under section 241, the government is not required to prove an overt act or substantial step in furtherance of the agreement.
So, the charge of “conspiracy against rights” is always a felony charge, even if the underlying FACE violation is charged as a mere misdemeanor. It carries a 10-year prison sentence. And it can be leveled against a pro-lifer even if they did not act upon the plan of the so-called “conspiracy.”
In other words, with a minimum of alleged violations of the law needing to be proved, the government can maximize charges and penalties. And according to Patel’s legal reasoning, the mere act of planning to commit a misdemeanor FACE violation, even if it was never actually carried out, constitutes a federal felony punishable with a hefty 10-year prison sentence.
By invoking such laws against pro-life protestors and activists, the government can seek maximum prison sentencing as well as immediate incarceration upon a guilty verdict if it includes a special finding of “use of force,” which then places the underlying FACE violation into the category of a “crime of violence.”
In the article, Patel further argued that “the linchpin to a successful FACE Act prosecution is motivation.” Patel detailed how a defendant’s social media posts and “even bumperstickers” can be used as material evidence to establish intent. Thus, the burden of proof on the part of the government establishing intent need only meet a low bar, easily accessible through social media posts and communication, and pro-life bumper stickers.
Criticizing Patel’s twisting of the “conspiracy against rights” law, an American Pro-Lifer article stated, “The reasons, according to Mr. Patel himself, have nothing to do with the intent of the legislators who passed the conspiracy laws – after all the ‘conspiracy against rights’ act was passed after the Civil War to prevent extremely violent conspiracies that sought to deprive black Americans of their basic constitutional rights, like the right to vote.”
Although the “conspiracy against rights” law was first used by courts according to the original intention of the statute, in the Price case, the Supreme Court ruled that §241 protected both rights expressly enumerated in the Constitution as well as those implied by it.
This ruling opened the door to a wide interpretation and an ever-expanding application of the law by the federal government, including cases of misconduct by law enforcement, hate crimes, witness tampering, and human trafficking. The most recent political weaponization of the statute against pro-life activists goes well beyond the original intent of the law.
The Mark Houck prosecution and the DC FACE Act trials
Just months after publishing his law review article “Face-Off with Anti-Abortion Extremism,” Patel attempted to use the FACE Act to prosecute Mark Houck, the pro-life father and sidewalk counselor whose son was harassed and accosted by a Planned Parenthood escort, prompting Houck to push the man away from his young son.
When the man pressed charges, the Pennsylvania attorney general tossed out the case, but the DOJ, led by Patel, picked up the case to press federal FACE Act charges. After a contentious trial, Patel lost miserably with the jury acquitting Houck of all charges after just one hour of deliberation.
On the heels of the Mark Houck defeat, the DOJ then dug up the several-year old case of Lauren Handy’s October 2020 “blockade” of the Washington-Surgi Center, which was brought to trial just this fall.
This case could be seen as the golden opportunity for Patel to try his novel proposal of combining FACE violation charges with the charge of “conspiracy against rights”. It would be the first time this would be tried in court, and since the “blockade” took place in Washington, D.C., it would fall under the jurisdiction of the outspokenly pro-abortion Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, with juries taken from the predominantly left-leaning, pro-abortion residents of the District of Columbia.
The D.C. FACE Act trials, conducted over the course of the last three months, have thus been Patel’s brainchild. They have been the test run for the DOJ in prosecuting pro-lifers for FACE violations in such a way that anyone involved in a “traditional lock and block” pro-life rescue – in which entrance to an abortion facility is physically blocked – faces a potential 11-year sentence with minimal need for the government to produce evidence pertaining to each person charged.
According to the logic of these prosecutions, if it can be said that there was even a semblance of a plan to “block” an abortion clinic, anyone involved “is on the hook for everyone else,” in Patel’s own words in the courtroom. So-called “co-conspirator liability” allows the DOJ to press all involved in such a “blockade” with the same charges and penalties.
The background to Patel’s spearheading of government prosecutions using the FACE Act lay in his role as director of a DOJ task force commissioned with protecting abortion.
Patel presently serves as the director of the Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers, a working group for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. The task force operates directly under the Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke and includes DOJ attorneys and special agents of the FBI, as well as other federal agencies.
As assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, Clarke is the top DOJ official responsible for pressing charges and prosecuting pro-lifers under the FACE Act. It was this task force, led by Patel and Clarke, which lay behind the prosecution of pro-life fathers Mark Houck and Paul Vaughn.
Although the FACE Act includes under its umbrella pro-life pregnancy centers and places of worship, it has exclusively been used by the DOJ to prosecute pro-lifers protesting at or blocking access to abortion clinics. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in response to the successful closing of numerous abortion facilities across the country due to the protests and blockades of Operation Rescue.
Since the leak of the Dobbs decision in May 2020, although hundreds of Catholic Churches and pregnancy centers have been attacked, vandalized, and even burnt to the ground by pro-abortion groups such as Jane’s Revenge, the DOJ has refused to open a single FACE Act case in response.
Bill to repeal the FACE Act
With the first two trials concluding with a “guilty” verdict and immediate incarceration for all eight defendants, and the third trial now waiting for Judge Kotelly’s verdict, Patel has been handed two victories on the national stage, opening a new phase in the Biden persecution of pro-life Americans.
While the increasingly desperate attempts of the Biden regime to protect at all costs the murder of innocent babies in the womb should not surprise pro-lifers, it is all the more incumbent that the government’s weapon of choice, the FACE Act – which was previously affirmed by courts to be legally grounded in Roe v. Wade – be now repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court, given the overturing of Roe by Dobbs. The repeal of the FACE Act is the next major legal step to ending abortion.
To this end, on September 19, just days after the defendants of the second D.C. FACE Act trial were convicted and imprisoned, Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas introduced bill HR 5577 to repeal the FACE Act. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is introducing companion legislation in the Senate.
In his press release about the bill, Roy denounced “President Biden’s weaponized Department of Justice” for having “used the FACE Act to legally harass peaceful pro-life activists while simultaneously stonewalling good faith efforts by members of Congress to conduct even elementary oversight of the law.”
“Free Americans should never live in fear of their government targeting them because of their beliefs,” Roy said. “Yet, Biden’s Department of Justice has brazenly weaponized the FACE Act against normal, everyday Americans across the political spectrum, simply because they are pro-life. The FACE Act is an unconstitutional federal takeover of state police powers; it must be repealed.”
Echoing Roy, Senator Lee declared, “Joe Biden’s DOJ has weaponized this constitutionally dubious law against pro-life sidewalk counselors while failing to protect pregnancy centers and churches from arson, vandalism, and violence,” adding, “It’s time to repeal the FACE Act once and for all.”
Joining Roy and Lee, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, condemned the FACE Act for prescribing “harsh, mean-spirited punishments when pro-life individuals engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience – the staple of the human rights and civil rights movements.”
“Under the FACE Act, peaceful actions like holding a sign, singing a hymn, or praying the Rosary, if conducted near an abortion mill, can result in jail sentences, massive fines and punitive damages by the party that feels it has been offended,” Smith denounced.
Should the FACE ACT be repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court, Patel’s zeal in combining it with charges of “conspiracy against rights,” to maximize penalties for pro-lifers, will have served as the impetus to get the abortion protection removed once and for all.