“She was precluded from presenting her complete defense … when the trial judge precluded her expert witness testifying about her diagnosis of have chronic post-traumatic stress disorder,” Michael Deutsch, Odeh’s lead attorney, said in opening remarks.
Last November, the Palestinian American community leader was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining US citizenship by failing to disclose on immigration and naturalization documents her 1969 conviction in an Israeli military court.
The defense argues that her mental condition prevented her from recalling her Israeli conviction at the time she filled out her applications. But the trial judge did not allow Mary Fabri, an expert witness on torture who examined Odeh, to testify at trial.
Odeh’s defense and government prosecutors each got 15 minutes to argue their cases before a three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Most of the time was taken up by spirited back and forth as the judges – Alice Batchelder, Karen Moore and John Rogers – asked the lawyers probing questions.
An audio recording of the hearing has been published by the court.
“I thought it went very well, better than I expected,” Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada. “I thought the judges took it seriously and weren’t hostile to the issues.”
“I think part of it has to do with the courtroom being filled with her supporters,” Deutsch added.
More than 100 of Odeh’s supporters travelled from Chicago and other cities to attend the hearing.
“Good day in court”
The judges appeared to challenge the prosecution’s argument that Odeh does not have a right to present an expert witness.
“I just don’t understand,” Judge Roberts told Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Tukel, who led the prosecution against Odeh.
“Her false statement was ‘no’ to a question. If an expert testimony could say her mind interacting with that question in that language on that date didn’t register the facts that would lead her to say ‘yes,’ then that would go to whether or not she knew she was lying,” Judge Roberts said.
William A. Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University who has often expressed hardline anti-Palestinian views and who runs the blog Legal Insurrection, wrote, “If all you listened to was the audio, it seems like Rasmea had a good day in court.”
But Deutsch cautioned against reading too much into the hearing.
“You never know what the outcome will be,” he said. “You can’t always tell the result by the questions they [judges] pose. Sometimes they are just being devil’s advocate.”
While Odeh’s appeal brief also argues against the prosecution’s inclusion of Israeli military court documents at trial, Wednesday’s hearing focused exclusively on Odeh’s right to call an expert witness.
Deutsch estimates the court will take between one to three months to issue a decision.
In the meantime, Odeh remains “out of jail and continuing to do her work which is so important.”
Odeh is associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, where she has founded a number of programs for immigrant woman.
“Every day she’s out of prison it’s a victory for her and her community,” Deutsch said.