The above link is the Order and Opinion of the Court reversing defendants convictions.
The four defendants in this case are religious workers The defendants entered a United States Wildlife Refuge in Arizona near the Mexican border and left supplies of food and water for migrants to find. They were arrested and convicted of misdemeanor charges of trespassing, leaving property in the refuge and one defendant was charged with an additional count of operating a vehicle on a restricted road. The defendants were tried by a bench trial before a United States Magistrate Judge, who found them guilty of all charges.
Because this is a misdemeanor case, initial appeal is to a single United States District Judge, rather than to the 9th Circuit. Accordingly, United States District Judge Rosemary Marquez heard the appeal. On January 31, 2020, she reversed the judgement of the Magistrate Judge and acquitted the defendants on all charges. Additionally she ordered the government to remit all fines paid back to the defendants, ordered their probation terminated and lifted the order barring them from trespassing on the Wildlife Refuge. The defendants had not been sentenced to any jail time.
Judge Marquez invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in overturning the defendants convictions. The defendants had raised the RFRA at trial as a defense, but the Magistrate Judge gave it short shrift. They then raised it, successfully, on appeal.
The RFRA defense can be raised affirmatively. It is the burden of the defendants to 1. prove that the law burdens their sincerely held religious beliefs and 2. that the law is not the least restrictive means for the government to accomplish its purpose. Judge Marquez found that the defendants successfully proved both standards.
I agree with the judgement of the court, given the RFRA statute as written.
Also, Judge Marquez was clearly put off with the government’s logic that if defendants were not allowed to place food and water, more migrants would die and accordingly other migrants would be dissuaded from attempting entry. She specifically rejected that argument as gruesome logic.