A sketch of the courtroom scene, with Alvin Schlangen, left, wearing headphones to help him hear the proceedings, next to his lawyer, Nathan Hansen. (Drawing by Lynn Maderich) After a notably weak opening-day prosecution of Minnesota farmer Alvin Schlangen, his defense attorney will today file a motion to dismiss the criminal misdemeanor case. 

Defense lawyer Nathan Hansen will argue that Schlangen has the right to sell food to about 200 members of a private food club, without regulation, under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of a right of association and free speech, and the Minnesota Constitution’s religious exemption. Hansen will maintain that because the state constitution allows religious groups exemption from regulation, a non-religious food group should be similarly exempt. 

The motion has little chance of succeeding, but it underscores the weakness of the prosecution’s first day Tuesday, when a jury of six people was seated, and the first prosecution witnesses testified. The first witness, a veterinarian with the Minnesota Department of Health, was questioned, as expected, about an illness from campylobacter that supposedly first got the state interested in Schlangen. She was quick to admit that the department hadn’t linked the illness to Schlangen, or any other particular food source; the sickened individual had admitted to ingesting fast food from a number of sources. 

The state’s second witness, inspector John Mitterholzer, was even less persuasive, by all accounts. He hedged most of his answers, and stumbled badly when he produced a spread sheet from Schlangen that he couldn’t explain how he obtained. 

Thanks to Kathryn Niflis Johnson, a member of Schlangen’s food club, for providing information on the trial’s first day. In addition, food rights lawyer Amy Salberg provides an excellent account of the trial’s first day, at her blog, Real Food Law.