Man Claims Federal Government Can't Charge Him With Crimes; Judge Doesn't Buy It

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 25, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cliven Bundy, cattle rancher and man who believes "the Federal Government does not have any ownership interest in the Bundy Ranch," (a.k.a. federal property upon which Bundy was illegally grazing his cattle) is currently in federal custody, charged with sixteen felony offenses stemming from an armed standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management officers near said ranch in 2014. Bundy appealed his indictment on the grounds that "the land is not owned by the United States."

A federal magistrate judge denied Bundy's motion to dismiss his charges, so he appealed to the federal United States District Court. Unsurprisingly, that federal judge also denied his appeal.

Let's review Mr. Bundy's claims:

  • "the Federal Government does not have any ownership interest in the Bundy Ranch, depriving this court of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the dispute";
  • "the federal government cannot have authority over lands 'inside an admitted state'";
  • "any activity of Federal Agents on [the land in question] during the time period described within the indictments was illegal, unlawful, and was an aggressive trespass onto lands owned by the people of Nevada";
  • "while these courts have several times expressed the conclusion that the Federal Government absolutely owns all of these lands, that these expressions could not even be categorized as findings of law, but rather were restatements of the unexamined self-serving assumptions of a party to the dispute (the Federal Government)"; and
  • That the magistrate judge "erred in finding that the land-ownership question is foreclosed by existing law on the subject."

Bundy's argument is essentially that the United States never owned the land they leased to him and upon which he grazed his cattle. Therefore he never owed the federal government grazing fees, and that the government's subsequent attempts to collect those fees and bar Bundy from future grazing lacked legal authority.

It did not take many pages for the federal court to dismiss this argument.

Necessary Failure

One of the reason's Bundy's appeal was denied so tersely is that, as the court pointed out, he's been making the same argument for decades, and "this argument has been soundly and consistently rejected by every court to consider the issue." Previous courts even reviewed the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to determine whether the United States had valid title to federal land in Nevada, and guess what: it does:

Defendant's underlying premise as to why the crimes fail as a matter of law, however, remains that "the land is not owned by the United States." Because the Court finds that the land in question is owned by the United States, this objection necessarily fails."

So it's on to a criminal trial or a plea deal for Bundy. Given the fate of his sons and cohorts after their armed occupation of federal land in Oregon, we're guessing Bundy will hope for his conviction, so he can take his threadbare legal arguments to the Supreme Court.

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