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Defendants Charged With Felonies Successfully Move Forward With Necessity Defense


In a victory for activists, on April 23rd, an appellate court upheld a district judge’s previous ruling that those individuals being prosecuted for shutting down a tar sands pipeline could proceed with the necessity defense, or a defense indicating that their actions were necessary due to the threats posed by fossil fuel production via the construction of the pipeline.

State prosecutors had challenged the ruling, claiming that the defense would jeopardize the chance of a successful prosecution and confuse the jury. However, as a result of the appellate court’s decision, the defendants will be able to present evidence (including experts) discussing how the oil is harming the planet. The defendants are currently facing felony charges in conjunction with attempting to shut down the pipeline.

Climate Experts & Evidence of Danger

These scientific/climate change experts are expected to testify as to the growing, urgent danger that the defendants attempted to prevent by shutting down the pipeline; a danger linked to the oil’s CO2 emissions that the government has failed to meaningfully address. Many of these defendant activists feel as though they have no choice but to address the catastrophic crisis of climate change, given the failure of our political system to adequately do so.

How These Appeals Work

Appeals like these depend upon state criminal procedure law. In this particular criminal case, the state could appeal from a pretrial order if it is able to establish that a district court’s error will have a critical impact on the outcome of the trial unless reversed.

In order to prevail, the state has to clearly and unequivocally show that the order will have a critical impact on the state’s ability to prosecute the defendant successfully and that the order was an error. This does not require a showing that the pretrial ruling completely destroyed the state’s case, but that it significantly reduced the likelihood of a successful prosecution.

In this particular case, the state argued that the district court’s ruling would significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful prosecution because the necessity defense was inapplicable and thus evidence concerning it would confuse the jury and conflate the issue concerning culpability. However, the judge responded that the common-law defense of necessity has long been recognized in the state, and applies in emergency situations where peril leaves no alternative but the conduct which occurred, and the harm that would have resulted from complying with the law would have exceeded the harm that resulted from the defendants’ breach. 

Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys

At The Baez Law Firm, we believe in using strategic defenses in order to protect someone’s rights at every stage of a case, including the appellate level. If you are facing criminal charges as a result of being an activist, contact us today to find out more.



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