Press Release – Shutitdowntoday: Bagley, Minnesota – October 17, 2017 In a precedent-setting ruling, a judge in Clearwater County, Minnesota has allowed defendants facing criminal charges for shutting down two Enbridge tar sands pipelines to present a “necessity defense” at their upcoming jury trial. That will permit the defense to call scientists and other expert witnesses, and present evidence on climate harms to support their contention that the immediate threat of catastrophic climate change justified their action.
While this is not the first time a court has approved presentation of the necessity defense in a criminal trial of a climate activist, the ruling is a milestone that will have far-reaching implications. “Only a few courts have allowed presentation of the climate necessity defense, and until Friday, no judge in a jury trial in the United States had recognized the defense in writing,” according to a statement from the Climate Defense Project, a legal nonprofit that provided pre-trial briefing and is part of the defendants’ legal team.
The defendants are climate activists who sought to prevent climate damage by stopping the flow of carbon-intensive tar sands. “Valve-turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein closed safety block valves on Enbridge pipelines in Clearwater County, Minnesota, on October 11, 2016 as part of the coordinated “Shut It Down” climate direct action, which disrupted all five pipelines bringing carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada to the United States.
Two other defendants face criminal charges for documenting Johnston and Klapstein’s action: videographer Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma. They have also been granted permission to present a necessity defense, and will be tried separately from Johnston and Klapstein.
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