Joseph Caputo, fence jumper at the White House. Handout
Joseph Caputo, fence jumper at the White House. Handout ()

Sporting an American flag as a cape on Thanksgiving Day last year, Joseph Caputo leaped over the fence that separates the public street from the White House lawn. An arrest and criminal charge inevitably followed.

Caputo challenged the case on constitutional grounds, arguing that he was engaging in First Amendment-protected speech. His vault onto the White House grounds, he said, was an act of protest.

But a federal judge in Washington, D.C., didn’t buy Caputo’s free speech claims and on Friday rejected his bid to have the case dismissed. Caputo’s arguments “border on frivolous,” wrote U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper.

“There is, after all, no First Amendment right to express one’s self in a non-public area like the White House,” Cooper said. The federal government, the judge wrote, was “entirely justified in prohibiting even symbolic breaches of White House security.”

Caputo, one of a string of White House fence-jumpers in recent years, is part of a long history of protesters who have used demonstrations in and around federal buildings to lodge grievances against the government. In 2015, Douglas Hughes was arrested after he landed a gyrocopter on the U.S. Capitol lawn to advocate for campaign finance reform. Hughes took a plea deal and was sentenced in April to 120 days in jail.

According to Caputo’s court papers, he scaled the White House fence to raise awareness of “deficiencies” in the U.S. Constitution — he had a rewritten copy of the Constitution in his mouth when he jumped over the fence — and the government’s lack of attention to domestic issues.

Caputo was not armed and was taken into custody by the U.S. Secret Service shortly after he made it over the fence. President Barack Obama and his family were inside the White House at the time, according to news reports. Caputo’s lawyer compared his client’s actions to someone who was engaged in “expressive conduct including picketing, or lying down in protest.”

Cooper, however, wrote that there is no First Amendment right that covered Caputo’s actions and that public access was clearly restricted on the White House grounds.

The judge wrote that any right that Caputo did have to free expression was outweighed by the government’s “profound interest in protecting the White House complex, the president, and the functionality of the executive branch.”

A trial is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Caputo’s lawyer, Stephan Seeger of Stamford, Connecticut, was not immediately available for comment on Friday. Caputo was released to his home in Connecticut, subject to monitoring, pending future court dates in Washington.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sporting an American flag as a cape on Thanksgiving Day last year, Joseph Caputo leaped over the fence that separates the public street from the White House lawn. An arrest and criminal charge inevitably followed.

Caputo challenged the case on constitutional grounds, arguing that he was engaging in First Amendment-protected speech. His vault onto the White House grounds, he said, was an act of protest.

But a federal judge in Washington, D.C., didn’t buy Caputo’s free speech claims and on Friday rejected his bid to have the case dismissed. Caputo’s arguments “border on frivolous,” wrote U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper.

“There is, after all, no First Amendment right to express one’s self in a non-public area like the White House,” Cooper said. The federal government, the judge wrote, was “entirely justified in prohibiting even symbolic breaches of White House security.”

Caputo, one of a string of White House fence-jumpers in recent years, is part of a long history of protesters who have used demonstrations in and around federal buildings to lodge grievances against the government. In 2015, Douglas Hughes was arrested after he landed a gyrocopter on the U.S. Capitol lawn to advocate for campaign finance reform. Hughes took a plea deal and was sentenced in April to 120 days in jail.

According to Caputo’s court papers, he scaled the White House fence to raise awareness of “deficiencies” in the U.S. Constitution — he had a rewritten copy of the Constitution in his mouth when he jumped over the fence — and the government’s lack of attention to domestic issues.

Caputo was not armed and was taken into custody by the U.S. Secret Service shortly after he made it over the fence. President Barack Obama and his family were inside the White House at the time, according to news reports. Caputo’s lawyer compared his client’s actions to someone who was engaged in “expressive conduct including picketing, or lying down in protest.”

Cooper, however, wrote that there is no First Amendment right that covered Caputo’s actions and that public access was clearly restricted on the White House grounds.

The judge wrote that any right that Caputo did have to free expression was outweighed by the government’s “profound interest in protecting the White House complex, the president, and the functionality of the executive branch.”

A trial is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Caputo’s lawyer, Stephan Seeger of Stamford, Connecticut, was not immediately available for comment on Friday. Caputo was released to his home in Connecticut, subject to monitoring, pending future court dates in Washington.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.