Lakota Law Aims to Use Necessity Defense for Chase Iron Eyes and HolyElk Lafferty

Date: 10/23/2017

The legal argument would assert that Iron Eyes and Lafferty had no other legal options given the disparate impact DAPL has on their family and tribes.


Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and attorney Chase Iron Eyes on Thursday filed a memorandum notice of intent to present a “necessity defense” in his upcoming trial over charges relating to his protest of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) earlier this year.

Iron Eyes is charged with one class-C felony of "Inciting a Riot" and one class-B misdemeanor of "Criminal Trespass” for his involvement in the Last Child Camp stand, which occurred on Feb. 1 on unceded 1851 Treaty Land near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. He faces possible disbarment and at least five years of prison time, if convicted.

A necessity defense—if approved by the judge—would argue that, given the direct impact of DAPL on Iron Eyes’ tribe and family, he had no other alternative to civil disobedience in order to resist the pipeline’s incursion on his ancestral lands.

“Given the Dakota Access pipeline’s imminent threat to my tribe’s and my family’s only water supply, I ultimately had no choice but to resist on the front lines.” Iron Eyes said. “Pipelines spill all too often, and our efforts to stop DAPL's construction were thwarted by President Trump’s illegal intervention to cancel the Environmental Impact Statement that the Army Corps of Engineers had decided to prepare. In addition, the fossil fuel industry and its contributions to climate change represent an immeasurable danger to every one of us. Our peaceful and prayerful stand did no harm to anyone, especially when measured against the harm these projects pose to our planet’s wellbeing, and to the hope of future generations to live healthy lives. I did what I had to do.”

Lakota People’s Law Project attorney Lanny Sinkin will present the same defense for a second client, fourth-generation female Lakota activist HolyElk Lafferty. Lafferty, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, was among a group of people arrested at the same location as Iron Eyes on Feb. 1. “A revised necessity brief will be filed on her behalf shortly with a hearing scheduled for Nov. 16 at 10:00 a.m. before Judge David Reich,” Sinkin said.

The trials are slated to begin next spring.