In August 2006, two Orange County men—James McGuinn and Paul Tu—drove together in the carpool lane of the southbound Interstate 405 when a habitual criminal driving a Chevy Blazer rear-ended them at 35 mph. Though damage was minimal to McGuinn’s Ford Explorer, Jamar Wendell Rivers—the Chevy driver—fled, weaving through dense, morning traffic. McGuinn tailed Rivers from the scene while Tu, the passenger, called the California Highway Patrol. A shirtless, heavily tattooed Rivers eventually took the Magnolia Street exit, turned into a BJ’s Pizza parking lot, jumped out of his car, ran up to McGuinn’s window, yanked on the locked door, pounded his fist and yelled, “You motherfucking asshole. What the fuck are you doing? I’m going to fucking kill you.” A startled McGuinn turned to Tu and said, “We’ve got to get out of here!” He quickly backed his car away and Rivers made his second escape attempt. Cops immediately nabbed him. Rivers explained that he’d been in a hurry to get his nagging girlfriend to her work.
At trial, the 25-year-old Los Angeles County man admitted that he’d been upset because McGuinn tailed him but tried this argument: the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed his free speech rights to utter his words. He also said his threats were obviously empty because he hadn’t been carrying weapons. After a five-day trial, a jury convicted Rivers for making criminal threats, attempting to dissuade witnesses from reporting a crime, hit-and-run and driving on a suspended license. Unrepentant, he took his First Amendment argument to a California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. Led by Acting Presiding Justice William W. Bedsworth, the court recently issued a terse rejection of the defense theory. Bedsworth determined that the two victims had indeed been terrorized. For a less than a minute of stupidity, Rivers won a free trip to a California prison. It’ll be his home for six years and four months.
(Wednesdays at OCWeekly.com discover the depths of human depravity in Orange County, California.)
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— R. Scott Moxley/ OC Weekly