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Mistrial Declared in Cliven Bundy, BLM Standoff Case

The long, strange, and often silly legal saga of Cliven Bundy and his anti-federal government militiamen took another odd turn this week, one that indicates this is not the last we'll hear about the men in court. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Bundy, his two sons Ryan and Ammon, and a fourth man, Ryan Payne, relating to an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014.

A mistrial can be declared for any number of reasons, so why did the judge think it was warranted in this case?

Suppression of Surveillance Evidence

The prosecution in any case are required to hand over exculpatory evidence (evidence favorable to the defendant) to defense counsel if requested. But U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro determined that federal prosecutors suppressed evidence from FBI surveillance cameras recording the Bundy home in Nevada and FBI logs, maps, and reports regarding the property.

Nor did prosecutors disclose the presence of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) snipers around the location of the standoff in the days leading up to the confrontation. Bundy, the three other defendants, and about a dozen other heavily armed supporters met BLM officers attempting to roust Bundy's cattle from federal land after Bundy failed to pay grazing fees.

Non-Violent Armed Militiamen

Navarro also pointed to non-disclosed assessments conducted by the FBI, BLM, and Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center that determined "the Bundy family is not violent" and that they "would probably get in your face, but not get into a shootout." Because the government inappropriately withheld this evidence, Navarro said the court "regrettably believes a mistrial is the only suitable option."

"A fair trial at this point is impossible," Navarro added. But that doesn't mean a future trial will necessarily be unfair. The government could choose to retry the case, as a mistrial is not a determination a determination of guilt or innocence. "That is not the court's decision," Navarro said. "It is for a jury to decide."

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