Is Global Warming a Necessity Defense?

On April 23, the Minnesota valve turners gained permission from the state appellate court to claim their admittedly illegal actions were necessary in light of global warming from pipeline fuels.  But there are still several slips between this cup and their lips.  In the report below from Minnesota Star Tribune there are several points of interest:

First, the ruling did not support defendants’ claims, only that the prosecution did not prove that allowing the defense would damage the trial process.

Second, prosecutors may appeal this ruling to the Supreme court.

Third, the district court judge who will preside over the trial says there is a high standard for that defense to succeed.

Fourth, as the dissenting appellate justice said: “This case is about whether respondents have committed the crimes of damage to property and trespass. It is not about global warming.”

A three-judge appeals panel ruled 2-1 Monday that the prosecutor has failed to show that allowing the necessity defense will have a “critical impact” on the outcome of the protesters’ trials. The decision was labeled “unpublished,” which means it sets no binding precedent for other cases.

The appellate court allowed the so-called “necessity” defense to go forward. In a pretrial hearing in District Court, the protesters testified about 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 state objected to the defense, and the appeals court, on a 2-1 vote, has now dismissed that objection. The state can ask the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The Court of Appeals didn’t rule on whether the defendants’ actions were necessary but said the state failed to show that allowing the defense would significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful prosecution. The court said state law doesn’t allow objections to the necessity defense before trial.

In a pretrial ruling, Clearwater County District Judge Robert Tiffany allowed the defense but said the necessity evidence must be “focused, direct, and presented in a noncumulative manner.” The state argued that the necessity defense would “unnecessarily confuse the jury.”

The defendants have said they intend to call expert witnesses to testify about global warming and their belief the federal government’s response has been ineffective.

Connolly’s dissent cited a 1971 state court ruling that said the necessity defense “applies only in emergency situations where the peril is instant, overwhelming, and leaves no alternative but the conduct in question.” The defendants in this case cannot meet that requirement, Connolly wrote.

Footnote: In a previous valve turner trial, the judge refused to have testimony from witnesses such as James Hansen unless they could testify regarding defendants’ state of mind.  In other words, that judge was willing to consider global warming as a plea of temporary insanity.

One comment

  1. manicbeancounter · April 27, 2018

    The conduct in question at the trial would not have prevented CAGW even if the hypothesis were true. If the threshold of dangerous climate change is breached with around 1000 GtCOe of emissions then the valve turners actions would have had about the same impact as emptying one’s bladder onto a major forest fire.


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