A county court on Tuesday dismissed a misdemeanor charge against the man responsible for undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood, although a related felony charge is still pending.
“The dismissal of the first indictment today sends a strong message to Planned Parenthood and their political cronies that colluding to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizen journalists will never work,” said the Center for Medical Progress, the group founded by David Daleiden.
The “swift dismissal” of the charge against Daleiden is evidence that “the indictments from a runaway grand jury in Houston were a politically-motivated sham all along,” the statement went on to say.
Daleiden leads the “Human Capital Project” for the Center for Medical Progress, which describes itself as a “group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.”
The project, a series of undercover videos released starting last July, tried to show Planned Parenthood’s role in the transfer of fetal tissue of aborted babies to harvesters for compensation.
Planned Parenthood clinics illegally profited from the transactions, the Center for Medical Progress claimed. Under federal law, fetal tissue can be donated for uses like medical research, with “reasonable” compensation to cover costs like storage and transportation. It cannot be sold for “valuable consideration.”
Daleiden and his co-workers posed as representatives of a fictitious tissue procurement company. They met with Planned Parenthood doctors and discussed various prices the organization might be willing to accept for transfer of fetal tissue.
In January, a Houston grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of accusations, while indicting Daleiden for a misdemeanor charge of attempting to purchase fetal tissue from the abortion clinic in Houston for “valuable consideration.”
The grand jury’s decision drew considerable criticism, and claims of political bias. The Center for Medical Progress maintains that it followed all applicable laws for investigative journalism in its work.
Texas law forbids any attempt to procure fetal tissue for “valuable consideration,” but does leave exceptions for costs like medical expenses or operating costs. The prosecution has to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the exception to the law does not apply to the defendant.
The grand jury’s indictment “does not reference this exemption in any way,” the county court’s document read. Thus the indictment is “void” because it did not state “every essential element of the offense” as required by law.
“A void indictment confers no jurisdiction to this court,” the document continued.
The grand jury had also indicted Daleiden and co-worker Sandra Merritt on a second-degree felony charge of “tampering with a governmental record,” or making or using a false identification with an “intent to defraud or harm.” They were accused of making and using a fake California driver’s license to access the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast building in Houston. That indictment is still pending.
Other pro-lifers cheered the court’s dismissal of the misdemeanor charge.
“A win for the pro-life movement and for the rights of investigative journalists to expose hidden corruption,” said the investigative media group Live Action on Twitter.
“This is a huge win for the protection of First Amendment rights for all citizen journalists,” added Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.
She called the court’s dismissal “a smack down of bogus charges brought by politically-motivated officials trying to cover up the heinous crimes of Planned Parenthood and StemExpress.”