Wednesday, April 16, 2008

10th Circuit Says RFRA Gives Defense, Not Immunity From Trial

In United States v. Quaintance, (10th Cir., April 15, 2008), defendants who were members of the Church of Cognizance, were indicted for possession of marijuana and related offenses. They raised a defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The trial court, after a hearing, refused to dismiss the indictment and refused to permit defendants to raise a RFRA defense at trial because they had not shown the existence of a sincerely held religious belief. Defendants attempted to appeal that order before they were actually tried, arguing that a First Amendment free exercise right is lost if not vindicated before trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that RFRA and RLUIPA are statutes that create defenses, not a right to avoid trial. It rejected the argument that this case is within the collateral order exception to the requirement that only final judgments can be appealed. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Carl Olsen for the lead.]