Judge dismisses 'armed uprising' case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy
A US judge has dismissed criminal charges against a Nevada rancher and his sons accused of leading an armed uprising against federal authorities in 2014.
Chief US District Judge Gloria Navarro signalled when she declared a mistrial last month that she might dismiss the case outright against 71-year-old Cliven Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.
The judge, sitting in Las Vegas, severely criticised prosecutors for wilfully violating the due process rights of the defendants, including failing to properly turn over evidence to their lawyer.
But she gave the government a chance to submit written documents opposing dismissal of all charges.
The decision will reverberate among rights advocates in western states, where the federal government controls vast areas of land that some people want to protect and others want to use for grazing, mining and oil and gas drilling.
A tense armed stand-off outside Bunkerville, about 80 miles north east of Las Vegas, stopped a federal Bureau of Land Management round-up of Bundy cattle from public land including what is now Gold Butte National Monument.
About three dozen heavily armed federal agents guarding corrals in a dry riverbed faced hundreds of flag-waving men, women and children calling for the release of 400 cows.
The cattle had been rounded up under court orders issued over Mr Bundy letting his herd graze for 20 years without paying government fees.
No shots were fired before the outnumbered and outgunned federal agents withdrew.
Several gunmen among the protesters who had assault-style rifles were acquitted of criminal charges in two trials last year.
Ryan and Ammon Bundy were acquitted of federal criminal charges in Oregon after leading an armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in early 2016 to demand the government turn over public land to local control.
Payne awaits sentencing in that case but is trying to withdraw his guilty plea to a felony conspiracy charge, which is expected to bring a sentence of more than three years in prison.
In Las Vegas, the judge declared a mistrial on December 20, leaving Cliven Bundy as the only defendant still jailed after refusing an offer to be released under house arrest.