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Ruling paves way for necessity defense in Enbridge pipeline protest case

Activists are seen attempting to cut chains after trespassing into a valve station for pipelines carrying crude from Canadian oils sands into the U.S. markets near Leonard, Minnesota, in this image released on Oct. 11, 2016. Courtesy Climate Direct Action

LEONARD, Minn. —Four activists accused of tampering with Enbridge-owned pipeline facility near Leonard in northwest Minnesota will be allowed to argue at trial that they felt they had no choice but to commit the crime.

Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined a request from the Clearwater County Attorney's office to review an April ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that paved the way for the protesters to present a "necessity defense."

A necessity defense is used to shield people who must break the law in order to prevent greater harm.

Annette Klapstein, 66, of Bainbridge Island, Wash., Emily Johnston, 52, of Seattle, Benjamin Joldersma, of Seattle, and Steven Liptay, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were arrested in October 2016 after Johnston and Klapstein used bolt cutters to cut padlocks and chains in order to access the facility near Leonard, which is 28 miles northwest of Bemidji.

Liptay, a documentarian, was acting as a photojournalist and Joldersma went along to help with safety precautions.

After Klapstein, Johnston and Joldersma were charged with felonies and Liptay was charged with two gross misdemeanors, the group gave notice that it intended to use the necessity defense. Prosecutors objected, but after a hearing in which the four activists testified, state district Judge Robert Tiffany ruled that they could present the defense at trial.

The Clearwater County Attorney's Office objected and brought Tiffany's ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court dismissed the appeal, at which point prosecutors appealed that dismissal to the state's highest court.

An order signed by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea on July 17 simply states that "the petition of State of Minnesota for further review be, and the same is, denied."

No information about upcoming court dates was immediately available.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

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