Earlier this year, a federal jury in Las Vegas refused to convict defendants from the Bundy clan for their alleged roles in armed standoffs. In another stunning setback to federal prosecutors, the jury acquitted Cliven Bundy, Ricky Lovelien, and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges, and delivered not-guilty findings on most charges against Scott Drexler and Eric Parker. Back in 2014, Cliven Bundy made national headlines after his family engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents when they tried to take his cattle that were illegally grazing on public lands. Some of the charges the defendants faced included threatening federal officers and brandishing a firearm against them.
Prosecutors began retrial in July after their first attempt to prosecute resulted in a failure to reach a jury verdict against Drexler, Parker, Lovelien, and Stewart. The judge then ordered Lovelien and Stewart to be freed immediately and declared a mistrial for Drexler. Only defendants Gregory Burleson of Phoenix, Arizona, and Todd Engel of Idaho were found guilty on some charges. The initial prosecution concentrated on six of the least culpable of the 19 defendants charged in the case. 17 co-defendants still remain in federal custody with the release of Lovelien and Stewart.
Back in November of 2016, a Portland district court jury also acquitted Ryan Bundy and five of his alleged co-conspirators of his federal charges of theft and impeding federal workers from their jobs on an Oregon wildlife refuge.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas confirmed that it will push for retrial for a third time in an attempt to convict Drexler and Parker, who are accused of taking up arms against federal agents. This pushes back the other criminal trials for the 11 defendants who are currently awaiting their court dates.
Jury Acquittal and Jury Nullification
Jury acquittal, also known as jury nullification, occurs when a jury renders a unanimous “not guilty” verdict. It is based on the legal concept that jury members vote “not guilty” if they do not support the government’s law, or do not believe it is constitutional or humane.
Acquittal is different from a hung jury, also known as a mistrial, which occurs when jurors simply can not reach a unanimous verdict to reach a guilty or not guilty conviction.
Typically in criminal trials, a unanimous jury is required if the jury is comprised of six people. However, California is different from most states in that all jurors have to agree in a criminal trial, even if it is a 12-person jury. Continue reading