The “Necessity Defense” Spin Cycle

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To hear the media tell it, the anti-pipeline activists won a monumental victory in a Boston courtroom last week.

“Boston Judge Acquits 13 Pipeline Protesters in Groundbreaking Decision” – EcoWatch

“Judge Rules Boston Climate Change Protest A Legal 'Necessity'” – WBUR

“Protesters Win on ‘Necessity Defense’ in MA Court Case” Inside Sources

There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

According to the UK Independent, “one member of the court’s staff who asked not to be named, confirmed the judge had found them not responsible. The person denied, however, that the judge had made the ruling on the grounds of legal necessity.”

And that is a critical distinction, because the “success” of this case was predicated on being able to invoke the necessity defense in court and “turn the tables on a system that rubber stamps pipelines and drilling applications while it criminalizes protest and dissent,” according to the Climate Disobedience Center which is leading the necessity defense campaign.

In fact, Marla Marcum, who co-founded the Climate Disobedience Center with convicted felon and notorious “valve turner” Ken Ward, said the group had “spent a year and a half preparing a climate necessity defense to present to a jury trial” for this case, which involved 13 protesters who blocked construction of the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline in 2016. But their courtroom activism was short-circuited when the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office downgraded the criminal charges to civil infractions, the equivalent of a parking ticket.

And while they didn’t secure the necessity-defense victory they have been seeking for years, they certainly won the media battle. In less than a week, they spun their “disappointment … that these defendants have been denied a jury trial,” into celebrating “the first time” climate-change activists were acquitted based on the necessity defense.

Thanks to the climate-change activists propensity to put out a public statement every time somebody expresses a thought, you can see for yourself how in just five short days their message evolved from disappointment to celebration, while the facts stayed the same.

March 22 – Update on the West Roxbury #ClimateTrial (POSTED BY MARLA MARCUM)

Yesterday, the prosecutor informed our legal team that the charges against the 13 remaining West Roxbury Resisters will be reduced to civil infractions—basically the equivalent of a parking ticket.

These defendants have been denied a jury trial, although the judge had signaled an inclination to allow a necessity defense … While we are disappointed, we are not disheartened.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be unwilling to hear the evidence about climate change and community risk, but we will not be silent. We may not get the #ClimateTrial we wanted in Boston next week. But the fight will continue in this community and in many more.

March 27 -- Exciting News from West Roxbury (POSTED BY MARLA MARCUM)

Big and exciting news! Earlier today, 13 defendants went into the west Roxbury District courthouse to answer charges related to their arrests protesting the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline. We expected to have charges against them reduced to civil infractions — the equivalent of a parking ticket. [NOTE: They didn’t “expect” the charges to be reduced; they knew they had been reduced.]

While finding no grounds to deny that motion from the prosecution, the judge chose to let each defendant testify briefly on the necessity of their actions … Following their testimony, the judge acquitted ALL the defendants by reason of necessity … This was the first time (that we know of to date) that defendants were acquitted based on climate necessity.

Except, of course, they weren’t. The facts hadn’t changed. Just the spin.

Following the outcome of the trial, one activist said she was very happy that the “necessity defense” could now be “put up in a headline. That it won.” And she’s half-right. It can—and was—put up in headlines. But that doesn’t change the facts, no matter how hard they wish it would.