It’s official: America’s most famous (or infamous) rancher, Cliven Bundy, has just learned his fate.
Fox News reports that Bundy, two of his sons, and another former defendant will remain free for the foreseeable future, as US District Judge Gloria Navarro has dismissed all charges against them for leading anti-government militia groups in an armed resistance to the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014.
However, Navarro’s ruling makes it clear that these folks are getting off scot-free not because they were innocent, but because the feds engaged in “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct” that made a successful prosecution all but impossible:
Navarro accused prosecutors of willfully withholding evidence from Bundy’s lawyers, in violation of the federal Brady rule.
The Brady rule, named after the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case known as Brady v. Maryland, holds that failure to disclose such evidence violates a defendant’s right to due process.
“In this case the failures to comply with Brady were exquisite, extraordinary,” said Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano. “The judge exercised tremendous patience” […]
Navarro offered a handful of examples of the prosecution’s failure to disclose. One had to do with a video showing government surveillance of the Bundy ranch, as well as government snipers, before the standoff.
“Timing is everything when it comes to these documents,” said Napolitano. “The tapes show that the defendants were telling the truth when they said they brought a militia to the property to protect them from snipers, rather than the government’s version, which is that the snipers came to protect the government agents from the militia.”
Other instances of the government holding back included the failure to produce an internal affairs report on BLM misconduct, which the defense requested and the government denied existed, and threat assessments by federal agents declaring the Bundys were not likely to use violence.
AZ Central notes that the judge has dismissed the charges “with prejudice,” meaning that federal prosecutors are forbidden from attempting to file the same charges against the defendants in the future, because in her view a new trial simply would not be on a level playing field.
This whole saga began with a dispute over Bundy’s cattle grazing on federal land. Starting in 1993, Bundy began refusing to renew a federal permit for cattle grazing on federal land (a restriction imposed in the name of protecting the desert tortoise habitat, of course). A legal battle went on for 20 years, with Bundy racking up $1 million worth of fines and fees, until tensions finally boiled over:
Things came to a head in 2014, when officials planned to capture and impound cattle trespassing on government land. Protesters, many armed, tried to block the authorities, which led to a standoff. For a time, they even shut down a portion of I-15, the main interstate highway running through Southern Nevada.
Tensions escalated until officials, fearing for the general safety, announced they would return Bundy’s cattle and suspend the roundup.
Afterward, Bundy continued to graze his cattle and not pay fees. He and his fellow protesters were heroes to some, but criminals to the federal government. Bundy, along with others seen as leaders of the standoff, including sons Ammon and Ryan, were charged with numerous felonies, including conspiracy, assault on a federal officer and using a firearm in a violent crime. They faced many years in prison.
On the one hand, the heavy-handed regulations that started all this were ridiculous, and of course federal prosecutors have to follow the rules. On the other hand, letting people get away with armed insurrections against the law is a troubling precedent to set.
What do you think about all of this? Sound off below!