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Chicago Seven Trial: 1969

Guilty Verdicts Multiply

Judge Hoffman used the hiatus to deal with the numerous contempt of court citations that had accrued throughout the trial. He found all seven defendants and their attorneys guilty of no less than 159 counts. Sentences varied from 2-4 months for Weiner, to four years for Kunstler.

Speculation that the jury would be unable to reach a decision proved unfounded. On February 18, 1970, they adjudged Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman, and Rubin guilty, while acquitting Froines and Weiner. Two days later Judge Hoffman passed sentence. Each defendant received the maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

A long round of appellate action ensued. It began with the contempt verdicts. On May 11, 1972, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed all of these convictions on grounds that, because Judge Hoffman had been targeted by the attack, due process dictated that he should not sit in judgment on the contempt charges.

In November 1972 the appellate court overturned all five incitement to riot convictions, citing numerous errors by Judge Hoffman and the prosecution attorneys. In particular, they denounced Judge Hoffman's "deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense." Scale, too, had his conviction overturned.

The government elected not to retry the incitement case, but did proceed on the contempt charges, with the result that in November 1973, Dellinger, Kunstler, Hoffman, and Rubin were again convicted. However, Judge Edward Gignoux signaled an end to the whole unsavory affair by deciding that the imposition of further jail sentences was unwarranted.

By any reckoning the Chicago Conspiracy trial has to be considered a low-water mark in American jurisprudence. Nobody emerged from the conflict untarnished. Ironically, the only victor was the legal system itself. Mocked and derided by the defendants, it bent and on occasion threatened to break, but ultimately it came to the assistance of those who decried it most.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Belknap, Michael P. American Political Trials. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Clavir, Judy and John Spitzer. The Conspiracy Trial. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970.

Epstein, Jason. The Great Conspiracy Trial. New York: Random House, 1970.

Goldberg, Stephanie Benson. "Lessons of the 60's." ABA Journal. (May 15, 1987): 32ff.

Shultz, John. Motion Will Be Denied. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1972.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Chicago Seven Trial: 1969 - Seale Bound And Gagged, Star-studded Witnesses Appear, Guilty Verdicts Multiply, Suggestions For Further Reading