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DAPL protesters

While marching south along Morton County Road 82 to a Dakota Access yard, protesters met law enforcement on the railroad tracks on Nov. 15, 2016. Some individuals placed and removed a truck filled with debris on the tracks. Other people placed sticks and branches on the tracks, and someone spray-painted an outbuilding.

The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled unanimously to reverse the conviction of a woman found guilty of felony tampering with a public service related to a Dakota Access Pipeline protest.

Rebecca Jessee was convicted at a Morton County court trial in January related to protest events at a railroad crossing at Morton County Road 82 on Nov. 15, 2016, west of Mandan.

In the high court's opinion published Tuesday, Justice Daniel Crothers wrote that the conduct of Jessee's presence on the tracks was decisive. 

"Law enforcement observed a small group of protesters tampering with railroad property by placing debris on the tracks, but Jessee was never accused of participating in those actions," Crothers wrote. "Physical presence may be trespassing, but without a change, alteration or harmful conduct toward railroad property, Jessee's actions do not constitute tampering."

Jessee is the first defendant convicted from the DAPL protests to win on appeal. Only a handful of 831 defendants have appealed, including three previous, unsuccessful appellants.

Melinda Power, an attorney with the Water Protector Legal Collective, called the opinion "a good victory" for all those arrested on the tracks that day, as well as the protest movement.

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According to the South Central Judicial District, eight state-level criminal cases derived from the DAPL protests are open, as of Wednesday. More than 730 have been adjudicated, with 87 warrants still out there.

The protests effectively ended in February 2017.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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