No Surprises Expected at Bundy Trial

LAS VEGAS (CN) — The indictment against Cliven Bundy and 16 other defendants for their armed standoff with the federal government sufficiently informs them of the charges against them, a federal judge ruled.

Steven A. Stewart, 28, of Hailey, Idaho, is among 17 defendants charged with up to 16 felonies apiece for their involvement in an April 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management near Bunkerville, Nev.

The BLM tried to confiscate about 400 head of cattle that Cliven Bundy had been grazing on federal land for years, without paying grazing fees. Bundy and his followers held off the federal agents at gunpoint. The agents eventually gave up for fear of violence.

The BLM says Bundy owes about $3 million in grazing fees. Bundy and his followers insist the federal government has no right to own or control the land.

A three-phase trial is slated to start Feb. 6.

Stewart faces 11 felony counts and with several other defendants filed a motion for a bill of particulars, including 25 requests for facts and particulars of the indictment against him.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen on Aug. 18 denied Stewart’s motion for bill of particulars, saying the federal indictment “sufficiently informs defendants of the nature of the charges to allow them to prepare a defense, avoid any unfair surprise at trial and plead double jeopardy in any subsequent prosecution.”

Stewart objected to Leen’s ruling against his motion for bill of particulars.

He claims Leen overstated his motion to include all “overt acts” pertaining to him and that he would face “prejudicial surprise at trial without further particularity.”

Stewart said a “bill of particulars sought will isolate and identify the relevant evidentiary details buried in the mountain of discovery in this case so as to avoid trial-surprise,” and that he could face “prejudicial surprise” at trial.

U.S. District Chief Judge Gloria Navarro overruled Stewart’s objections in a Dec. 15 order.

Navarro wrote that Stewart has the “constitutional right to know the offense with which he is charged, not to know the details of how it will be proved.”

Stewart does not “provide legal support for his assertions that he should receive further particulars about his specific overt acts and the non-conspiracy charges,” Navarro added.

As a magistrate judge, Leen is “afforded broad discretion, which will be overruled only if abused,” and a U.S. district court “‘may not simply substitute its judgment’ for that of a magistrate judge.”

Navarro said Leen correctly ruled that the indictment or information need not identify property subject to forfeiture or specify how much money the government seeks in forfeiture.