SALT LAKE CITY — Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher filed an appeal Tuesday, saying he wasn't given the chance to defend himself during a trial that landed him in jail for disrupting an oil and gas lease auction in 2008.
DeChristopher, 30, was convicted by a federal jury in March of two third-degree felonies for placing bids on 14 parcels of land, driving the prices up and never intending to pay the $1.8 million they were valued.
During the trial, attorneys for DeChristopher attempted to use the necessity defense, arguing that their client was forced to choose between the lesser of two evils regarding the Bureau of Land Management land grab.
"The greater evils DeChristopher was seeking to combat were the government’s violation of its own laws prior to and during the auction, and the consequential exacerbation of global warming, or climate change, and destruction of irreplaceable natural and cultural resources — very real, cognizable and ongoing harms," as stated in a 78-page appeal filed in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday. The claim states that the land auction was being conducted illegally.
"DeChristopher’s completely nonviolent action was a lesser evil than the then-ongoing government law-breaking and the consequential contribution to climate change and other harms he reasonably anticipated."
The appeal also states that DeChristopher believed his actions would thwart "environmental, historical, archeological and other harms" being conducted by the government through broken laws and regulations regarding the land sale.
U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson rejected the defense prior to the weeklong trial, not wanting his courtroom to be a venue for such a hypothetical argument. He said there was insufficient proof that any harm would occur.
Because DeChristopher had filed protests, participated in demonstrations complaining of the nature of the sales, and had participated with groups that had filed lawsuits in the process, the court rejected his defense, claiming he "was in the midst of the auction and governmental lawbreaking," as stated in the appeal. Attorneys believe that given the choice, at least one juror would have sided with DeChristopher.
In addition to claiming the court abused its discretion in blocking the necessity defense prior to trial, documents filed Tuesday state that the court violated DeChristopher's constitutional rights to defend himself and confront the government's case.
"He thwarted the auction in order to stop then-ongoing government corruption and to protect the Utah and world communities and ecosystems," the appeal states, adding that First Amendment rights include communicating one's beliefs against government wrongs.
DeChristopher was sentenced to two years and is serving time in a low-risk, minimum security prison in California. He also blogs for various environmental causes. He is asking the court to remand his case and vacate the sentence, also dismissing the charges.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company