Description: Criminal action against protester who turned off valve on oil pipeline in Washington.
State v. Ward
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 04/08/2019 Opinion Download Conviction reversed and case remanded. Washington Appellate Court Said Climate Change Protester Must Be Allowed to Present Necessity Defense. The Washington Court of Appeals held that a trial court order excluding testimony and evidence on the necessity defense deprived a climate change protester of his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. The protester was convicted of burglary in the second degree after he broke into a pipeline facility and turned off a valve, stopping the flow of Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Washington. The court found that the protester had presented “a sufficient quantum of evidence to show that he would likely be able to meet each element of the necessity defense.” First, the court said the defendant’s proof of how past acts of civil disobedience had been successful, of previous climate activism campaigns, and of his own personal experience of effecting change through civil disobedience was sufficient evidence that he believed his actions were necessary to minimize the harms he perceived. Second, the court found that the defendant had offered sufficient evidence that the harms of climate change were greater than the harm of breaking into the pipeline facility. Third, the court said whether the harms of global climate change were caused by the defendant was not at issue in this case but noted that the defendant had proffered evidence about the “root causes” of global climate change. Fourth, the court found that the defendant offered sufficient evidence of the absence of reasonable legal alternatives. The evidence included the defendant’s 40 years of involvement in environmental movements, his numerous attempts to address climate change, and the failures of most of those efforts. The court also concluded that the defendant’s actions “were not intended to be merely symbolic in nature” (since he sought not just to alleviate climate change “generally” but to address the “specific dangers” of tar sands oil and sea level rise in Washington) and that the evidence offered therefore was not solely aimed at inducing jury nullification. The court also found that the denial of the defendant’s constitutional rights was not harmless since even on the “closest question” of whether the defendant admitted he had reasonable legal alternatives a jury could “well have concluded that [the] available legal alternatives were futile.” The court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
People v. Ward
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 06/23/2017 Order Defendant sentenced. On June 23, 2017, a Washington Superior Court sentenced Ward to two days in custody (which he had already served), 30 days of community service, and six months of community supervision. The Climate Disobedience Action Fund’s press release indicated that the State would not re-file the sabotage charge and that the State could still file for restitution. 06/07/2017 Verdict Verdict issued. Climate Activist Convicted and Sentenced for “Valve Turning”. On June 7, 2017, a Washington state court jury convicted climate change activist Kenneth Ward of second-degree burglary but could not reach a verdict on a related sabotage charge in connection with Ward’s breaking into an oil pipeline facility and turning off a valve to shut off the pipeline. In a press release after the verdict, the Climate Disobedience Action Fund said: “There is no dispute about the facts in the case. Ward freely admits he closed an emergency valve on a tar sands pipeline to prevent harm to the climate, as part of a coordinated action in four states .… What is disputed is whether it is just or legal to convict Ward of felony crimes for acting peacefully and responsibly to prevent greater harm to the climate.” The press release noted that the court did not allow Ward to present a “necessity defense” to justify his actions with evidence regarding climate change-related harms stemming from the tar sands. 05/10/2017 Ruling Motion to reconsider denied. Washington Court Ruled Again That Necessity Defense Was Not Available to Climate Activist. A Washington Superior Court ruled for a second time that a climate change activist who entered a pipeline facility and turned off a valve to stop the flow of oil could not present a necessity defense at trial. The court initially ruled that the defendant could not rely on the necessity defense in January 2017; the defendant’s first trial subsequently ended in a mistrial. The defendant—charged in the second trial with sabotage and burglary—asked for reconsideration, arguing that the court had erred by incorporating an “imminence” element into the defense, requiring the potential for immediate harm. The defendant further argued, however, that if given the opportunity he could establish the imminence of harm from climate change. The defendant also argued that the court erred in ruling that he had reasonable legal alternatives and that he had not actually avoided or minimized the targeted harm. In opposing the motion for reconsideration, the State of Washington said that given the defendant’s “grandiose depiction of impending doom, it seems we are indeed fortunate to still be alive to argue the matter further more than six months after the defendants’ actions.” The State also said that the defendant’s actions had not avoided any harm and that he could not qualify for the necessity defense because his actions were planned ahead of time. The trial was scheduled to begin on June 5, 2017. 05/05/2017 Response Download Supplemental response filed by State to defendant's motion to reconsider. 04/27/2017 Motion Download Motion to reconsider filed. 02/01/2017 Verdict Mistrial declared. Mistrial Followed Washington Trial Court’s Rejection of Necessity Defense in Climate Protester Case. In January, a Washington trial court denied a request by a defendant to use the necessity defense against charges of burglary and criminal sabotage in connection with his breaking into a Trans Mountain oil pipeline facility and turning off a valve to shut off the pipeline. The court was reported to have said that the necessity defense standard required the threat posed “to have some immediacy, some imminence, more so than this particular threat and harm, which is climatic change, global warming, whatever.” On February 1, the court declared a mistrial after a jury was unable to reach a verdict. The defendant said that he took the actions “because I believe that it is the obligation of every thinking person to find a way to stave off climate cataclysm, and there is no effective, legal alternative to personal direct action.” The charges were refiled later in February. The defendant again pleaded not guilty on February 17, 2017.