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Judge: Jumping Over White House Fence Not Free Speech

Joseph Caputo had asked the judge to dismiss his case, arguing the fence jump was an exercise in free speech

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    Vanessa Pena via AP
    Joseph Caputo jumps a fence at the White House on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 -- when President Barack Obama and his wife and daughters were spending Thanksgiving at the White House. Photo provided by Vanessa Pena.

    Jumping over the White House fence is not free speech, a Washington, D.C., judge has ruled.

    The ruling came in the case of a Connecticut man who hurtled over the White House fence, draped in an American flag, on Thanksgiving Day 2015. Joseph Caputo had asked the judge to dismiss his case, arguing the fence jump was an exercise in free speech.

    A federal judge ruled the case must proceed, and said some of Caputo’s claims are frivolous. In his formal opinion, reviewed by the News4 I-Team, the judge ruled, "There is, after all, no First Amendment right to express one’s self in a nonpublic area like the White House."

    Caputo is scheduled to go on trial in D.C. on Sept. 12, charged with a misdemeanor count of unlawfully entering restricted government grounds.

    His jump triggered a lockdown at the complex in November 2015. Prosecutors said Caputo did so while the first family was inside the White House.

    "It was a serious and dangerous act that put multiple lives at risk, including the defendant’s own," prosecutors said in a court filing.

    According to court records, Caputo argued he breached the White House grounds with the "noble purpose" of "calling attention to various deficiencies in the Constitution."

    The court records said Caputo was trying to call attention to a government failure "to pay attention to domestic issues."

    The fence jump was the first of its kind after the 2015 installation of new spikes atop the White House fence.

    Victoria Pena of Houston said at the time the man was standing with other people visiting the White House compound when he rushed toward the fence carrying what appeared to be a binder. 

    "I just heard him take a big, deep breath and whisper to himself, 'All right, let's do this,' and he took off," Pena said. "It was chaotic. Everyone around us was yelling, and kids were crying. It was pretty unexpected."

    "Casually, I'm just there taking pictures and I see a ninja coming through, climbing," witness Amar Marwaha of London said.