Monday, September 12, 2016

Defendants' intent the central question in Oregon standoff trial

Ammon Bundy, his brother and co-defendants transformed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge into a ramshackle camp this winter, manned the perimeter with military-style armed patrols and warned of violence against anyone who attempted to remove them while declaring the refuge a "base place for patriots from all over the country,'' prosecutors will argue this week. What a jury must decide is whether their actions and intent amounted to a crime. The trial pits the federal government against a group of self-described patriots who fervently believe public lands are in the wrong hands. The case will help to further establish when political protest protected by the First Amendment crosses the line into words and deeds that will send you to prison, and what the legal limitations are to constitutional guarantees of free speech, assembly and the right to bear arms. Seven defendants have pleaded not guilty to the federal charge of conspiring to impede U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers from conducting their work at the refuge through intimidation, threats or force. Five of the seven are also charged with possession of firearms in a federal facility. Two face an additional count of government property theft. Margaret L. "Margie" Paris, a law professor and former University of Oregon School of Law dean, said much is at stake. "The prosecutors must put to bed the crazy constitutional notions that the defendants have,'' Paris said. "They have to be able to get a conviction here and meaningful sentences because there are people waiting to repeat this activity. It'll be an important deterrent.'' The highly anticipated trial in Portland's downtown federal courthouse is expected to last more than two months and will revisit in detail the politically and emotionally charged 41-day refuge occupation that drew national and international attention to Oregon...more

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