Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Refuge Occupation Trial May Seem Simple, But Complications Abound

A quick Internet search easily turns up evidence of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers doing things that could pose a problem for them in federal court.

In one video clip, for example, David Fry filmed himself getting into a refuge pickup truck.

“It’s a U.S. government vehicle, and I think I’m going to take it on a little joy ride,” he says in the clip. “Now you got another charge on me, FBI: I am driving your vehicle!”

The defendants are facing a mountain of evidence, much of it available on social media. But the case is anything but an easy or simple win for prosecutors, experts say.

“The legal challenges aren’t very great in this case because I think it is very clear that the defendants broke the law,” said Jenny Durkan, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington from 2009 until 2014.

While it may not be difficult to point to laws that may have been broken, Durkan said prosecutors are still tasked with proving their case for each defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The greater challenge is to avoid this becoming a circus atmosphere and yet another soapbox for the defendants to espouse their political beliefs,” she said.

It’s a complex case for a variety of reasons, including the sheer number of defendants, Durkan said. At last count there were 26.

“The whole thing is a storytelling,” she said. “[Prosecutors] want the jury to understand that this is not a case about lawful political speech. This is a case about people who violated the law.”

While it’s on the judge to keep the case on track and manageable for a jury, Durkan said prosecutors will almost certainly need to break the myriad counts into multiple trials with fewer defendants.

“The prosecutors are going to want to keep this as focused as possible on the legal proof,” Durkan said. “And the defendants are going to want to keep it as focused as possible on their political values.”

In other words, defense attorneys could argue that Ammon Bundy and his co-defendants were engaged in legally protected free speech.

“Our purpose, as we have shown, is to restore and defend the Constitution that each person in this country could be protected by it and that prosperity can continue,” Bundy said at a press conference on January 4th, near the start of the occupation.

No comments: