MINNEAPOLIS (Courthouse News) – Protesters who face criminal charges for attempting to shut down two oil pipelines are allowed to present a “necessity defense,” a Minnesota Court of Appeals judge ruled this week.
On Oct. 11, 2016, Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein planned to shut down a petroleum pipeline at a valve station in the small, rural town of Leonard. The activists were carrying out a plan coordinated by Climate Direct Action, the Associated Press reports.
The objective of the action was to shut down five pipelines that carry tar sands from Canada to the United States in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington state, the Associated Press reports.
Johnston and Klapstein have been granted permission to use a “necessity defense” in their criminal case, a defense that argues the two should not be held liable for actions that prevented a greater harm.
The activists were each charged with felony criminal damage to property, aiding and abetting felony criminal damage to property, gross misdemeanor trespassing, and aiding and abetting gross misdemeanor trespassing.
Minnesota previously opposed the activists’ reliance on the necessity defense, and at a hearing to address this objection, the activists said the defense related to their “individual perceptions of the necessity of their actions in preventing environmental harm caused by the use of fossil fuels, particularly the tar sands oil carried by the pipeline with which they interfered,” the 12-page opinion states.
The district court previously granted the activists’ request to present evidence on the defense of necessity at trial, a decision held up 2-1 by the three-judge appeals panel on Monday.
According to the opinion, the prosecutor failed to show that allowing the necessity defense would have a “critical impact” on the outcome of the trial.
According to the opinion, to establish criminal impact, the state need not show that the pretrial ruling “completely destroys” the state’s case, but it is sufficient that it “significantly reduces the likelihood of a successful prosecution.”
However, Judge Francis Connolly dissented, stating “This case is about whether respondents have committed the crimes of damage to property and trespass. It is not about global warming.”
He also said, “In the instant case, respondents could have not reasonably expected that their criminal act was ‘directly’ or ‘casually’ connected to the prevention of climate change. In fact, in their brief, respondents concede that they only had ‘anticipation of a direct casual connection’ based on their action’s potential ability to raise awareness in others of the harm of climate change.”
Connolly added that even though the activists’ actions brought attention to the cause, it would not be an effective way to reverse the current climate laws or policies.
Johnston and Klapstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.