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Climate Campaigner Tim DeChristopher Released From Prison

Activist calls for "genuine justice" in court system

Common Dreams staff

Tim DeChristopher will be released from prison and moved to a halfway house in Salt Lake City later this month. Photo by Mike Terry, Deseret News

Activist Tim DeChristopher, who was jailed for the past 18 months for disrupting a leasing auction for federal oil and gas exploration, has been released from prison. He is due to serve the remaining six months of his sentence at a halfway house in Salt Lake City, reports Deseret News.

Peaceful Uprising, the climate justice organization DeChristopher founded, posted on their Facebook page:

"Obviously his friends, his family, his community is excited to have him back here in a halfway home, but we are going to respect whatever time he needs. We will honor that he is still serving time (until April 2013)"

Although his attorneys have been fighting the conviction arguing that DeChristopher acted out of a greater necessity to protect the environment, that defense was dismissed and the greater environmental implications never became an issue during his trial or subsequent appeals.

DeChristopher released a statement last month that he was suspending his appeal explaining that the court has forbidden any discussion of "ethics, justice or the role of citizens," restricting his defense to a "narrow range of technicalities rather than the critical issues of the case."

He continued:


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After nearly four years in the criminal justice system and 14 months in prison, I have decided not to continue my appeal through the federal court system. [...]

Throughout every stage of this legal process, it has been a predetermined conclusion that I should be punished for standing up to the collusion between  government and corporations. Any potential discussion of ethics, justice or the  role of citizens has been banished from the court. The government insisted on this back in 2009 when they wrote that such discussions should be relegated to “the public square, not a court of law.” The first development in this case was a preemptive motion by the government to limit our defense, setting the stage for the trivialities which followed. As a result, our  defense team has been restricted to debating a narrow range of technicalities rather than the critical issues of the case.

When a conviction is overturned, it is often reported that the conviction was overturned “on a technicality.” Yet is almost never mentioned that every conviction is obtained and upheld on a technicality. Technicalities are the entire foundation of a legal system which has closed itself off to questions of morality and justice. Weighing these questions is the function of a jury, whose role as designed by our founding fathers is to protect fellow citizens from the government. But Judge Benson and the US Attorney’s Office insisted on preventing the jury from fulfilling their duty.

During the voir dire, the US Attorney’s Office was nearly apoplectic when it was suggested to potential jurors that they should use their conscience. After telling jurors that it was not their job to think about what is right or wrong, Judge Benson blocked evidence of government wrongdoing on the grounds that it would “confuse the jury.” That kind of contempt and fear of citizen participation in government is the hallmark of tyranny and the pathway to oppression. To continue debating technicalities through further appeals would only serve as a distraction from the critical discussion of how citizens should hold their government accountable. If there is any hope of this country ever getting a justice system worthy of the name, that hope lies in fully informed juries of ordinary citizens, not in judges protecting the interests of the powerful.

Throughout my incarceration I have witnessed the direct personal impacts of a legal system obsessed with technicalities rather than justice. The prisons I have been in are filled with nonviolent inmates suffering from mandatory minimums and other policies which are completely detached from the best interests of the individual or society. The injustice on display in my case is truly systemic, and we will put our continuing efforts toward creating a system of genuine justice for all.  

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