A federal judge has declared a mistrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, saying U.S. prosecutors willfully withheld critical and “potentially exculpatory” evidence from the defense.
Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed jurors Wednesday, several weeks after the trial began against Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and militia member Ryan Payne, who were accused of leading an armed standoff with federal land agents in 2014.
Navarro cited five key pieces of information that prosecutors did not disclose: records about surveillance and snipers at the Bundy Ranch; unredacted FBI logs about activity at the ranch in the days around the standoff; threat assessments about the Bundys dating to 2012; and internal affairs reports about the BLM.
Withheld evidence at issue
Navarro methodically laid out her reasoning for about an hour, citing legal standards and case law, before delivering her ruling.
She said the evidence that was withheld could have been favorable to the accused and could have affected the outcome of the case.
Navarro stopped short of dismissing charges against the four men. It is unclear whether the case will be retried because Navarro did not rule whether the mistrial was with or without prejudice.
She has set another hearing for January and has tentatively scheduled a new trial to begin Feb. 26.
Navarro suspended the trial two weeks ago and warned of a potential mistrial after prosecutors for the first time disclosed several documents that appeared to support defense claims about the government’s use of video surveillance and sniper teams during the standoff.
Prosecutors have long maintained the FBI was not involved in the standoff and that no video surveillance or sniper teams were used. They charged defendants with making false claims about snipers and videos to incite militia in the runup to the standoff.
Lawyers raise self-defense
Documents turned over by the prosecution after the start of the trial indicated the FBI played an active role in the standoff and that surveillance cameras and armed tactical teams were positioned around the Bundy Ranch.
Defense lawyers filed motions to dismiss the case, arguing the new documents provided critical evidence that would have allowed them to challenge the government’s charges, impeach government witnesses and lay the foundation for self-defense claims.