Arguments set for Monday in Wyo. wild horse roundup case
CHEYENNE (AP) — Arguments in a federal lawsuit contesting the
roundup of hundreds of wild horses in western Wyoming last fall
will focus on a federal law that carries different rules for
private and federal land.
The 1,263 horses gathered in late September and early October roamed both types of land in a vast area of sagebrush desert featuring square-mile sections of private land interspersed with equal-sized sections of federal land.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal will consider Monday whether the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act with the roundup in the Checkerboard area east and south of Rock Springs.
The act requires the BLM to maintain sustainable populations of wild horses on public land and to round up wild horses from private land when a landowner requests it.
The problem is few fences separate the Checkerboard's public and private lands. Wild horses — descendants of domestic horses that have run loose since the days of the Spanish explorers — crisscross the public-private land boundaries at will.
The BLM went ahead with last year's roundup after the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block it at the request of wild horse advocates.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and others continue to press a lawsuit they filed last summer against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. They claim the roundup violated several federal laws.
The groups claim the BLM neglected to determine beforehand that the Checkerboard herds contained excess animals, and failed to conduct an environmental analysis required for any roundup that would reduce a herd below a pre-established minimum size.
Both are requirements under the wild horse and burro act for roundups on public land.
"BLM is not at liberty to pick and choose which statutory mandates to comply with based on what makes BLM's task easier," the groups state in their opening brief.
The federal government counters that the BLM followed the law in conducting the roundup at the request of the Rock Springs Grazing Association. The ranchers group sued in 2011 to force the BLM to remove all wild horses from the association's lands, including the Checkerboard lands, in accordance with the wild horse and burro act.
The BLM resolved the lawsuit in 2013 by generally agreeing to the demands. After one roundup, the BLM returned some horses to the range then prepared to remove all wild horses from Checkerboard lands within three herd management areas.
The BLM determined that the roundup would meet its legal obligation to the landowners request and it could proceed without in-depth environmental analysis, according to the government's brief.
The agency acted legally and any remaining questions about it are moot, the government's brief states.
The Rock Springs Grazing Association and state of Wyoming have intervened in the case on the federal government's side. Wyoming in December filed a separate federal lawsuit alleging the BLM hasn't done enough to reduce wild horse numbers.
Freudenthal typically presides in Cheyenne but will hold this hearing at the University of Wyoming College of Law in Laramie.
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Post-conviction relief bill dies
By Trevor Brown
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE – A legislative committee defeated a proposal Friday that
would have allowed convicted felons to seek a new trial if there
is new non-DNA evidence that could prove their innocence.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 to reject House Bill 211, which passed the House 53-6 earlier this month.
The legislation would have allowed felons to file a motion for a new trial if there is newly discovered non-DNA evidence that could exonerate them.
The state currently only allows this option when there is DNA evidence.
Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, the sponsor of the bill, said felons have a five-year period to appeal their conviction. But after that, he said, there isn’t much that can be done for those seeking to be exonerated using non-DNA evidence.
“This addresses a problem in the event that someone has been convicted of a crime and there is non-DNA inculpatory evidence that is made available,” he said. “In the absence of other options, it simply allows the convict to petition the court for a new trial.”
Pelkey added that there would be a high standard for the convict to be granted a new trial. And he said it would be up to a judge to determine if that should happen.
Only one person – Cheyenne resident Andrew Johnson – has been exonerated through a law passed by the Legislature in 2008 that allows this process for newly discovered DNA evidence.
Aaron Lyttle, a Cheyenne lawyer and board member with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, said the state’s passage of that law was a positive development.
But he said DNA is available in only 10 to 15 percent of cases.
“So if someone showed that there was ballistic evidence that was discovered 15 years later, that person is out of luck under current law,” he said. “This would’ve changed that.”
But Peggy Trent, county and prosecuting attorney for Albany County, said she had some problems with the proposal.
She said there are already other options to appeal a conviction. This includes a state law that grants felons post-conviction relief if they can show “there was a substantial denial” of their rights under the state or U.S. constitutions.
“And if this were to open the door for compensation, that would concern me,” Trent said.
The bill did not include the ability for convicts who are exonerated through this process to gain any compensation from the state.
But Pelkey sponsored a separate bill that would have provided $100 a day – up to $500,000 – for convicted felons who are jailed but later proven innocent with the help of DNA evidence. He withdrew that legislation earlier in the session so he could rework the bill during the interim, and possibly fold compensation for people exonerated with non-DNA evidence into the bill.
HB 211 was defeated with Sens. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, and Floyd Esquibel, D-Cheyenne, voting in support of it. Sens. Leland Christensen, R-Alta; Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, and Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, voted against it.
Christensen, who chairs the committee, said one of the reasons he was against the bill was because there is a good chance the full Senate wouldn’t have enough time to debate the bill. That is because a legislative deadline would have required the Senate to pass the bill on its first reading by Monday.
“We are up against the 11th hour,” he said. “And when we looked at it, it appears that the remedies they are looking for are already covered.”
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