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February 27, 2011 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Tim DeChristopher goes on trial in a Salt Lake City District Court today [Case No. 2:09-CR-183], facing a ten year sentence and/or $750 000 fines. His crime? Intentionally making false bids on fossil fuel leases. His supporters include Dr James Hansen and Bill McKibben. (previously)
posted by wilful (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's the guy who messed up the sell-off of land at the end of the bush administration.
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on February 27, 2011


It's an interesting case of activism, slightly cleverer than the only other example I can think of, the Kingsnorth Six. However, cleverdickery doesn't get much sway in a court room, and this isn't the UK, so I wouldn't expect Mr DeChristopher's defence to do terribly well - not that I have a clue about the legal niceties (that's OK, I bet practically no one does).
posted by wilful at 3:35 PM on February 27, 2011


Victoria (Australia) introduced specific legislation in 2009 to make protesting at a coal fired power station illegal. Nice, thank you Labor government.
posted by wilful at 3:39 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, he's confident that he'll end up in prison.

This is undoubtedly due to the fact that he won't be allowed to discuss his motivations for the crime (and thereby put form an affirmative defense).

But this seems insane. Isn't it the norm for a prosecutor to try to convince a jury what the motivation was for a crime? How is a jury supposed to deal with the fact that the judge and the legal system are actively trying to prevent the jury from knowing WHY the person did what he did?

This legal dilemma isn't unique to this case, I'm sure, but can any lawyers out there tell me how these rules are at all sane?

Also, this is true civil disobedience. Willing to stand up and accept the legal consequences in order to prevent an injustice, or give light to an injustice. (Obama, if you're reading the blue, this sort of thing is why you are given pardon powers).
posted by el io at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Higher moral truth was a very successful defense for lynching.
posted by Wood at 3:56 PM on February 27, 2011


Wood: while this is true, the defendant's crime which he may serve ten years for is not the murder of someone in cold blood; it's raising a paddle in the air a bunch of times to prevent what might have been the illegal sale of public land.

I do understand the general perils of jury nullification. Still have a WTF going on for this sort of case though.
posted by el io at 4:08 PM on February 27, 2011


I can understand the worry that political motive may put him at risk of getting slapped harder than he might otherwise be. But isn't that part of the territory when one uses civil disobedience to make for political ends? It looks like DeChristopher's flair for the dramatic (that yesmagazine.org article has some eye rollers) may cost dearly. If the depiction in Yesmagazine is accurate, DeChristopher's actions sound like a pretty hastily conceived stunt. He was outed almost immediately, and likely his impact on the lease auction would have been very minor. The more effective way to disrupt the drilling leases seems to have been the boring old legal challenge won by Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley, using plain old reasonable arguments.

Next time, he should pick a better hill to die on. Or at least come up with a better plan.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:45 PM on February 27, 2011


well 2n2222, I wasn't aware of Mr DeChristopher before today, and haven't invested a lot of thought in this, but surely the entire point of the protest was a stunt? There's no way the leases would be permanently stopped, if found invalid they would be reformatted enough to make them valid, so the only thing that he could give to the protest was to raise the profile of the issue? Hasn't he effectively done that?

Mohamed Bouazizi wasn't trying to bring down the government, he was just seeking a profile for his issue.
posted by wilful at 5:06 PM on February 27, 2011


The whole point of civil disobedience is to provoke the government overreach. You can't get any publicity if you plead to disorderly conduct and don't get the big noisy trial and stare down an unjust sentence. This is how it is done old school, takes some real sack to standup like that.

I understand the government's position. Start having regular protest buffers at these auctions and wireless spectrum auctions, etc and pretty soon you'd have a huge legal mess everytime one of these went through. Imagine Verizon sending in armies of protest bidders to disrupt the engined of anyone else into the next gen market. That's a huge amount of government revenue at stake.

Finally as an ex-westerner one thing that still annoys me is how much of the state lands are under federal management. I would prefer to let the states have more of a sway over their land and the revenues generated from them. Peole would find a better balance if they were forced to accept the cosequences of their actions instead of blaming their woes on Washington. Frankly is patronizing and a bit colonialist junk. Yeah maybe we'd overgraze or screw up water rights, but the feds have no better track record and in many ways with things like yellowcake mining avoided the concerns of locals until it was far too late.
posted by humanfont at 5:28 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Next time, he should pick a better hill to die on.

From the HuffPo article: Some said they may reluctantly hold on to their leases - despite the higher cost - out of concern that the parcels might not go up for auction again under President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

The fact that several participants intend to hold onto the plots they won at the inflated price is a pretty clear indication that they think that's at least what the land is worth. Which is, in turn, a clear indication that despite the claims the auction was "tainted", these parcels of land were artificially and dramatically undervalued, and that he was correct in his claim that this amounted to a private theft of public land.
posted by mhoye at 5:30 PM on February 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


jury nullification

Jury nullification for interfering with a natural resources sales: a) in a state where these sales happen all the time, b) where locals work for companies bidding on these resources, c) during a bad economy, in a case where d) the facts aren't in dispute, and e) where most of the support seems to be coming from out-of-state ...

Seems like a real long-shot.
posted by zippy at 5:36 PM on February 27, 2011


I support Tim DeChristopher, along with anybody else who stands for the living on this planet.
posted by long haired child at 5:38 PM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's no way the leases would be permanently stopped, if found invalid they would be reformatted enough to make them valid, so the only thing that he could give to the protest was to raise the profile of the issue? Hasn't he effectively done that?
I dunno. You said yourself you were not aware of DeChristopher until today. Additionally, it seems the real barrier to the auctions was accomplished by a lawyer. Doing lawyer stuff. His stunt, not so much.
Mohamed Bouazizi wasn't trying to bring down the government, he was just seeking a profile for his issue.
Oh, please...
posted by 2N2222 at 5:43 PM on February 27, 2011


Oh, please...

Sorry, not a mind reader here, you'll have to elucidate that.
posted by wilful at 5:50 PM on February 27, 2011


Speaking of fossil fuels and the environment: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers
posted by homunculus at 6:12 PM on February 27, 2011


Just out of curiosity, since he really did want to take possession of that land for the purpose of preventing others from doing the same - What would happen if he could come up with the 1.8 million owed?

It seems to his only "fraud" amounts to not having the cash on hand; Yet, a recent major (and highly controversial) land deal in my state currently teeters on the brink of collapse precisely because the buyer doesn't actually have a financial backer!

The only difference I see here, DeChristopher has far more noble goals than building condos for rich weirdos in the middle of pristine wilderness.
posted by pla at 6:22 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


An important detail is that DeChristopher's actions were successful - between his disruption of the auction and a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, the all of these leases were dismissed by the Obama administration. He didn't throw 10 years away for nothing, nor just to increase awareness of climate change, he stood up to a corrupt administration and won.
posted by mek at 6:53 PM on February 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Isn't it the norm for a prosecutor to try to convince a jury what the motivation was for a crime? How is a jury supposed to deal with the fact that the judge and the legal system are actively trying to prevent the jury from knowing WHY the person did what he did?

I believe the theory is that motive and intent are not the same. Motive is generally not an element of a crime, so prosecution does not have to prove it. Evidence of motive, however, can corroborate the actual elements of the crime. Likewise, affirmative defenses have elements. If the facts claimed by the defendant cannot possibly satisfy those elements, then they are not relevant.

For all the above, caveat emptor.
posted by cheburashka at 8:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought I heard on a TED podcast that they had some intergenerational justice defense cooked up? (Perhaps this is covered in the OP's links.)
posted by salvia at 8:59 PM on February 27, 2011



This legal dilemma isn't unique to this case, I'm sure, but can any lawyers out there tell me how these rules are at all sane?


I don't know much about criminal procedure, but broadly it has to do with the proscription of the presentation of evidence that would not be relevant (legally speaking-- evidence tending to show the truth or falsity of an element of the crime at issue or any permissible defense presented). If the judge has ruled that the defense isn't permissible, than the judge can bar any mention of it.
posted by norm at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2011


If convicted, I would gratefully serve a portion of his prison sentence in his stead. I bet I could round up several hundred other people who would.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:16 PM on February 27, 2011


An oil and gas lease does not mean you now own or control the land.
posted by kenaldo at 5:48 AM on February 28, 2011


Latest coverage of the Bidder 70 trial is being posted at peacefuluprising.org or search for the #bidder70 hashtag on Twitter
posted by smoochbelly at 12:48 PM on February 28, 2011


kenaldo writes "An oil and gas lease does not mean you now own or control the land."

It means you control exploitation of oil and gas though.
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 PM on March 1, 2011


A show of abuse of prosecutorial discretion is at the core of this case.
posted by Kale Slayer at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2011


Climate Activist Tim DeChristopher Convicted on Two Felony Counts

Jurors Not Allowed To Hear That DeChristopher Tried to Pay For His Bids & Feds Rejected His Money
posted by homunculus at 8:34 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


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