Defense attorneys for Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who rigged oil and gas lease bids three years ago, have formally filed an intent to appeal a district court judge's decision to send the man to prison for two years.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson handed down the sentence to DeChristopher on July 26. The 30-year-old Salt Lake City resident who was a University of Utah economics student when he disrupted a Bureau of Land Management lease auction in December 2008, had faced a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Benson cited DeChristopher's continued speeches to reporters that civil disobedience is justified in fighting climate change before he ordered the man to prison. Had DeChristopher not boasted about his actions, he may have faced a different outcome, Benson said.
DeChristopher's defense team will argue to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that Benson should have permitted DeChristopher to explain the reasoning behind his actions which he says were necessary to prevent environmental harm and to stop an illegal auction.
Defense attorneys received notice from U.S. District Court Clerk D. Mark Jones on Monday that the notice of appeal has been filed with the Tenth Circuit.
The appeals process starts another chapter in what has already been a contentious case.
Before DeChristopher's sentencing last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber argued the man wasn't sorry for hijacking the auction and asked the judge for a sentence that would send a message to others considering similar behavior.
"The actual term imposed should be one of significant consequence," Huber wrote. "To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior."
DeChristopher's attorney, Ron Yengich, argued that DeChristopher should receive a lenient sentence, because his actions were for "the greater good of the world and all its inhabitants" and to "protect our environmental, archaeological treasures and cultural artifacts."
At the 2008 auction to protest sales of federally owned minerals in Utah, DeChristopher bid up the price on some parcels and won $1.8 million in leases without intending to pay. A federal jury deliberated nearly five hours in March before convicting him of making false representations.
At DeChristopher's four-day trial, defense attorneys were barred by Benson from arguing their client's environmental convictions and fears of a climate crisis justified his actions. Defense attorneys were also barred from deeply questioning the auction's legality, based on allegations that former President George W. Bush's administration rushed environmental reviews.
DeChristopher had signed a form that explained possible criminal sanctions for bad-faith bidding, and a BLM employee had given him a placard designating him as Bidder No. 70. The defense argued that he signed in as a bidder only because he thought he would otherwise be barred from attendance and that, at that point, he had no criminal intent. Only later, he and his attorneys said, was he moved to jack up the prices and take 14 leases off the market by bidding.
DeChristopher is in the Davis County Jail under the custody of U.S. Marshals until he receives his prison assignment from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Benson recommended he be housed in a low-security prison in Littleton, Colo. The BOP completes prison assignments based on a number of factors, including available space, security issues and judges' recommendations.
While the federal system does not have parole that would allow DeChristopher an early release from prison, he is eligible to earn "good time," which would allow him to shave 54 days off each year of his sentence.