Why We Get to Testify About Our “Claim of Right” in a Criminal Trespass Case

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Photo: ShutItDown

By Susu Jeffrey  October 7, 2018

The “Valve Turners’ Trial” begins Monday, October 8th in Bagley, Minnesota (west of Bemidji). The two Seattle, Washington defendants will testify about their motivation for shutting down a tar sands oil pipeline transporting the dirtiest kind of oil from Canada across the northern Minnesota Anishinabe rice lands, mostly for export abroad.

On Indigenous People’s Day this year Annette Klapstein, 66, a retired attorney and Emily Johnston, 52, poet and office worker, will walk into a northern Minnesota courtroom to plead a “necessity defense” for shutting down Canadian tar sands oil piped across our state.

Added by Rise Up Times from the ShutItDown website:

In a Minneapolis Star-Tribune op-ed, Emily Johnston explained the importance of the decision allowing the defense:

When the judge granted us the use of this defense, he wasn’t saying that he thought we’d proved what we did was necessary, not by any means; he was simply saying that based on what we said and the evidence before him, there was a chance that we might be able to prove this. And since it seemed possible, he believed we had the right to fully assert our defense to a jury.

I was elated. This meant that we could bring serious scientists of both physics and social change into the courtroom to talk about how our national political paralysis is putting humanity at the most profound risk it has ever faced and why it was reasonable for us to think that our actions might make a difference.”

Expert witnesses will include former NASA Chief Scientist Jim Hansen, and 350.org Founder Bill McKibben.

THE “CLAIM OF RIGHT” IN MINNESOTA

(And why the right to testify as to motive and and intent is possible in Minnesota.)

On August 3, 1984, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided State v. Brechon. The court held a defendant may not be precluded from testifying about their intent and motives for trespassing.

The court also held that the jury decides the sufficiency of the evidence presented to establish a claim of right.

The “claim of right” in the Brechon case trespass case also involved a Necessity Defense:

Necessity:
A defense that permits a person to act in a criminal manner when an emergency situation, not of the person’s own creation compels the person to act in a criminal manner to avoid greater harm from occurring.

Public Necessity:
A necessity that involves the public’s interest.

THE HONEYWELL PROJECT 1968-1990 Peace conversion with no loss of jobs.

During the Viet Nam War, Honeywell Corporation was the largest military contractor in Minnesota and had sales offices and plants all over the world. It was one of the top 20 arms manufacturers in the U.S.

From 1982-89, more than 2,200 people of peace were arrested for criminal trespass at demonstrations at the corporate headquarters along I-35W (at East 28th Street and 5th Avenue South) in Minneapolis.

I got arrested with nuns, the wife of the then Minneapolis chief of police Erika Bouza, Marv Davidov (the soul of the Honeywell Project), the Berrigans, Meridel LeSueur and (the late) John Brechon,  after whom the Brechon Decision is named.

We had three pro bono, obsessed legal talents who locked onto the concept of allowing motivation to be part of a defendant’s sworn testimony in trespass cases. Ken Tilsen (Wounded Knee, draft resistance, the Austin Hormel strike), Mark Wernick (Stop the Powerline across central Minnesota, end nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island), and attorney Linda Gallant took the case up to the state Supreme Court—and won!

Mostly many of us arrested over a number of years acted as our own lawyers, pro se, since we had hundreds of trials. Every time we went to court we asked for a jury trial and spoke our prepared statements to the citizens who were judging us. We labored over our speeches, poems, military facts, ethical arguments, personal histories. A few times we were acquitted.

We served a combined two years in jails or paid fines or worked at “sentence to serve,” a clever unpaid work program picking up highway litter or cleaning municipal sports facilities with people of color arrested for minor crimes.

I remember a judge who said her parents escaped fascist Spain and that she admired us and then announced our punishment. There are many other stories of trials, too numerous to list here, powerful statements by defendants, stories about good judges and not-so-good judges, interesting jurors and juries from those years of civil disobedience protest at the gates of manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction.

TELLING THE TRUTH

Sometimes you have to say it over and over and over again.

ACTIVIST BIOS FOR THE VALVE TURNERS ON TRIAL IN BAGLY

EMILY JOHNSTON

EMily_Photo.JPG

To be honest, I’d love to be able to lead a quiet life right now—building things, reading and writing all day, taking long walks with my dog, having time for dinners and vacations with my loved ones.

But to live like that at this moment in time would be to shrug off responsibility for the very world I was busy loving; we’re in a crisis of unimaginable proportions, and the fact that we here in the US can (between terrible storms and terrible droughts) live normal daily lives, doesn’t mean that we aren’t.

I’ve said enough about why I’m doing this: it needs to be done. I feel incredibly privileged to be alive in this moment, when so much is still so beautiful, and there’s still a chance to save it. But for years (decades, for some people) we’ve tried the legal, incremental, reasonable methods, and they haven’t been anything like enough; without a radical shift in our relationship to this Earth, all that we love will disappear. My fear of that possibility is far greater than my fear of jail. My love for the beauties of this world is far greater than my love of an easy life.

If others feel the same way, there’s hope for us yet.

ANNETTE KLAPSTEIN

annette.pngMy name is Annette Klapstein. I am a retired attorney and the mother of 2 grown children.  Three words embody my decision to take action: love, solidarity and responsibility.

It is my job as an older person to step up and put my body on the line to protect my children and all children. Being retired and freed from those obligations, there is nothing more important than insuring a habitable planet for all our children. Our political system has failed to respond to the grave threat of climate change – this is my taking responsibility.

There was a call for International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe this – this is my prayer and this is my action.  My life is only marginally affected by climate change right now, but there are mothers and children around the world in frontline communities – mostly low-income communities of color – who are being drastically affected right now. This is my act of solidarity.

Like mothers everywhere, I act from a deep love for my own children that extends out to all children and young people, and all living beings on this planet.  I have signed hundreds of petitions, testified at dozens of hearings, met with most of my political representatives at every level, to very little avail. I have come to believe that our current economic and political system is a death sentence to life on earth, and that I must do everything in my power to replace these systems with cooperative, just, equitable and love-centered ways of living together. This is my act of love.

BEN JOLDERSMA

Supporter Ben Joldersma was arrested along with valve turners Annette and Emily, and will stand trial with them in Minnesota.  Here is his (auto-) bio, written and posted here in the week before trial:

I’m a happily married dad of three wonder-filled kids. We live in Seattle where I work as Chief Technology Officer at Maven, a publisher coalition and technology platform. Nothing would make me happier than if our elected officials did their jobs and took the necessary steps to prevent catastrophic climate change. In the absence of that, my partner Nicky and I realized that no one was going to step in and protect our children but us and other ordinary people.

In the process of joining the work to avoid the worst possible outcomes, I came to love this world in a deeper, more powerful way. There’s something nourishing about being in community with others who also recognize the plight we are in. So while my heart is heavy with sadness for the people who have died in floods, the lost daughter of Tahlequah, the endangered orca who carried her dead body on her back in grief for 17 days, the forests that die from fire and the knowledge that the worst is still to come, I also feel stronger facing into that grief, and the beauty.

Doing this action, I’ve come to love the north country of Minnesota. Rolling hills, serene lakes, whitefish and wild rice, red leaves of the birch trees in briskly cold autumn air. The oil executives don’t see its beauty – they are tragically consumed by their thirst for profit. But the people who live here do – native and non-native alike. And they see it changing – increasingly erratic and intense weather, fires from the West and North. It’s scary to think what might happen to me, how my decision to participate in the valve-turning action may impact my time with my family, but my love for the things we will all lose is greater than my own personal fear. And that is what compels me to act.

Rise Up Times featured image, Paul Wellstone’s quotation on Significant Social Change, by Ricardo Levins Morales. Available at RLMArtstudio.com.

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