Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Judge Allows 'Necessity' Defense by Climate Activists in Oil Pipeline Protest

A Minnesota judge ruled that three activists charged with felonies can argue they had no legal alternative to protect citizens from climate change impacts.

Emily Johnston and two other activists were charged with felonies for shutting down a pipeline in Minnesota. A fourth activist filmed it. A judge in their trial has allowed the defendants to use the "necessity" defense. (Credit: Direct Climate Action) Click to Enlarge.
A judge in Minnesota has cleared the way for an unusual and potentially groundbreaking defense, allowing climate activists to use the "necessity" of confronting the climate crisis as justification for temporarily shutting down two crude oil pipelines last year.

Robert Tiffany, a district court judge in Clearwater County, Minnesota, ruled on Oct. 11 that three activists who were arrested and charged with felonies last year can argue that they violated the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming and that they had no legal alternative.  

"It is extremely unusual for a court to allow presentation of the necessity defense by environmental protesters," said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.  "It will be fascinating to see how this trial goes and how much evidence the court allows."

The ruling is only the third time a judge in the United States has allowed for such a defense in a climate case.  The first case, in Massachusetts in 2014, did not go to trial after the prosecutor dropped the charges.  A judge allowed the necessity defense in a Washington State case in 2016 but then instructed jurors they could not acquit on necessity.  "Only a few courts have allowed presentation of the climate necessity defense, and until Friday, no judge in a jury trial in the United States had recognized the defense in writing," the Climate Defense Project, a legal nonprofit that provided pre-trial briefing and is part of the defendants' legal team, said in a statement.

Read more at Judge Allows 'Necessity' Defense by Climate Activists in Oil Pipeline Protest

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