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NEWS

North Dakota Supreme Court Acts on Fair Trials Advice to Reject Petition

editor - October 17, 2017 - access to a lawyer, plea bargaining

The Supreme Court of North Dakota has agreed to continue to allow out-of-state lawyers to represent protestors accused of crimes in relation to their participation in demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ruling came after the Court took on board comments from numerous external actors, including Fair Trials.
DAPL BannerOver 760 people were arrested during the several-months long protests at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which led the North Dakota Courts to grant a Petition in January 2017, allowing qualified attorneys from other States across the USA to practise in North Dakota in order to deal with this unprecedented number of cases. The Judges of the South Central Judicial District then filed a Petition in September 2017, asking that this special provision now be terminated.
Fair Trials submitted a comment to the Supreme Court of North Dakota in September, emphasising our concern for the hundreds of arrestees who are still facing challenges accessing their procedural rights, particularly the over 150 people who still have no legal counsel. The Court took into account the number of pending cases, the lack of North Dakota lawyers available to handle the remaining cases and other substantive factors in deciding to reject the Petition and allow out-of-state lawyers to continue representing protestors.
Over 168 of the charges brought against DAPL protestors have been dismissed by prosecutors, but there are worries that prosecutors are deliberately waiting until the last possible moment before a trial is scheduled to drop charges, in order to encourage defendants to agree to a plea deal in the meantime. This is evidenced by the over 100 people who have already taken plea deals for taking part in the protests despite the high level of dismissals if defendants choose to proceed to trial. For many activists who travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to be part of the protests, making the journey back to North Dakota to face charges in front of a potentially unsympathetic jury presents a difficult and potentially unfeasible choice. In our recent report ‘The Disappearing Trial’, Fair Trials found that lack of regulation in plea bargaining systems across the USA has led to a severe diminishment of the right to a fair trial, and has led to a substantial number of defendants pleading guilty to crimes they have not committed- 44% of people exonerated in the US in 2015 had pled guilty.
Of all the aspects of the DAPL protests that dominated international headlines, one of them was undoubtedly the astonishing level of police brutality faced by protestors. Earlier this month, Fair Trials submitted a joint request to the Inter-American Commission in conjunction with the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program for a thematic hearing on “Indigenous Human Rights Defenders: the Suppression of Protest and Criminalization of Dissent in Response to the Dakota Access Pipeline Project”. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the militarized response and use of excessive force against the water protectors resisting the DAPL project.
Read the court ruling in full here

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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