Oregon Climate Protesters Use Necessity Defense, and It Works

A Portland court case against five climate activists ended in a mistrial yesterday, with five of the six jurors finding the defendants not guilty, even though they admitted their actions. Though a case with a hung jury can be retried, some see the outcome a victory.  

The protesters were arrested for trespassing last April after they’d blocked oil trains belonging to Zenith Energy. The blockade was accomplished by planting a garden atop the train tracks. A tiny house and a truckload of dirt were brought in for the occasion, and the event was filmed. 

Climate Necessity Defense: The activists, who belong to the environmental action group Extinction Rebellion, say that they expected to be arrested, and did not deny their guilt during the trial. Their approach to civil disobedience utilizes the necessity defense, which argues that one is not liable for a crime if it is committed because it was necessary to prevent some greater harm. Although not a new legal concept, it is unusual to find the defense used in terms of climate change.

The activists say that they are hoping for a retrial. If this occurs, they would use the necessity defense again. The implication is that if judges and jurors grow to accept the idea that climate change is a threat great enough to justify illegal action, then more people will be empowered to stand up to environmental polluters.  

By Peter Bask