BALTIMORE, MD, July 14, 2011 ( – Nine pro-life advocates who sued the state of Maryland for unlawful arrest were handed a victory this past Tuesday when a Federal District Court ruled that their constitutional rights had been violated.

The plaintiffs in the case, Ames, et al. v. Colonel Terrence Sheridan, were participating in a peaceful demonstration along Route 24 in Bel Air, Maryland in August of 2008. They were arrested by Maryland State Troopers responding to complaints over the graphic images on their signs, and were held in jail overnight.

The court ruled that the police’s actions violated the First and Fourth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs, and ordered a jury trial for assessment of damages.

“[A] reasonable police officer faced with the facts confronted by the Defendants would have known that, in ordering the demonstrators to leave Harford County, he would violate the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights,” wrote judge Richard Bennett of the federal district court for the District of Maryland, in a 49-page opinion.

“Moreover, arresting the Plaintiffs for exercising those rights was a violation of the Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights. In engaging in this manifestly unlawful behavior, the individual officers could not have reasonably misapprehended the law, nor can it be said that they made a bad guess in a gray area,” the ruling continued.

Chris Ferrara of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, who is serving as lead counsel for seven of the plaintiffs, called the decision gratifying and “comprehensive.”

“We are preparing to move ahead to a final resolution of the case,” he said.

Two of the plaintiffs are being represented separately by the Alliance Defense Fund. Defend Life, Inc., the organization that sponsored the 2008 “Face the Truth” demonstration that led to the arrest, is represented by the Thomas More Society.

The decision is the second major victory for the pro-life activists in a three year court battle that has included action against three separate defendants: the Maryland State Police, the Bel Air police department, and the Harford County police.

Harford County agreed to an out of court settlement this past March which included a new county policy in handling protests. Other terms of the settlement have been kept confidential.