Monday, May 01, 2017

Prosecutors struggle to prove conspiracy in Bundy cases

Federal prosecutors throughout the West have struggled recently to win conspiracy convictions against groups of loosely organized individual rights activists who identify with an anti-government movement best known for staging armed protests on federally managed land. The first blow for the federal government came in the fall, when Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of notorious anti-federalist rancher Cliven Bundy, were acquitted along with several others of charges that they conspired to intimidate employees out of doing their jobs at an Oregon national wildlife refuge. Then, last week, in the first test of how a Nevada jury would view the armed standoff in Bunkerville three years ago, jurors deadlocked on conspiracy charges against six men accused of helping the Bundys use force to get their cows back from authorities. In order to prove conspiracy, the government must convince jurors that two or more people shared the same criminal objective. Defense attorneys in the first Bunkerville standoff trial argued that their clients were protesters who exercised their constitutional rights to freely assemble and to bear arms. Eric Parker, one of the defendants who testified at trial, told jurors: “I didn’t care about the cows.” “You had an overlap of constitutional rights — First and Second Amendment rights — with the government’s allegations of assault,” said Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Kathleen Bliss, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in any of the Bundy cases. “From the constitutional standpoint, to stepping over the line into a criminal purpose and agreement … it just sounds like those lines were too blurred for the jury to make a decision that the evidence proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.”...more

The article closes with this summary:

First Oregon trial: All defendants acquitted of conspiracy.
Second Oregon trial: Split verdict; two of four defendants convicted of conspiracy.
First Bunkerville trial: Mistrial; jury hung on conspiracy charges against all defendants.

Depending on the year, federal conviction rates hover between 93% and 95%. On the conspiracy charges in these three trials, it is just under 12%.

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