Judge Christopher Hite of the San Francisco Superior Court announced today that the criminal case brought against Sandra Merritt by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for her undercover journalism work which exposed Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in baby body parts may move forward for only nine of the initial 15 felony criminal charges.
Judge Hite dismissed five more charges today regarding “Does 4, 9, 12, 13 and 14” as he made factual findings that the number of strangers in close proximity to those recorded conversations meant there could be no objectively reasonable expectation that the conversations were confidential. Judge Hite previously dismissed count eight. Thus, of the original 15 counts, Judge Hite has dismissed six. The standard at the preliminary hearing stage to determine what may go to trial is a very low probable cause standard, which is even lower than the preponderance of the evidence standing in a civil trial.
In the criminal case, Judge Hite ruled that “Doe 9” did not even meet this low standard of probable cause. In contrast, Judge Orrick in the civil case allowed the jury to find in favor of “Doe 9,” even though the hurdle of preponderance of the evidence is higher than probable cause. This huge difference underscores the bias in the civil case.
Merritt and Merritt’s co-defendant, David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, are the first undercover journalists to be criminally prosecuted in the history of the state. Liberty Counsel represents Merritt and has shown that, to date, no other citizen journalist or journalism organization has ever been charged with a crime for undercover recordings made in the public interest.
Judge Hite dismissed one of the original 15 felony criminal charges during the two-week preliminary criminal hearing. The first dismissed charge was regarding “Doe 8,” an abortion professor at a taxpayer-funded, public university, who never showed up to testify.
The undercover videos, most of which were recorded at the National Abortion Federation’s (NAF) 2014 and 2015 abortion convention and trade shows, exposed Planned Parenthood’s illegal involvement in harvesting and selling aborted baby body parts to companies such as StemExpress. The recordings capture Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the prices of baby body parts, picking through bloodied arms and legs of aborted babies in a pie tray, and discussing how to alter abortion methods to obtain better body parts for sale.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “We are glad that this unprecedented political prosecution is being dismissed, piece-by-piece. No journalist has ever been charged for investigative reporting. The attorney general is allowing politics to drive him rather than the rule of law. We are confident that Sandra Merritt did nothing wrong and we will continue to fight to exonerate her on all charges.”