[JURIST] The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that the plea agreement made by BP [corporate website] following a 2005 explosion at a Texas City refinery must be sent back to the US district court in Houston for reconsideration. The accident killed 15 and injured 180, but secret negotiations for a plea agreement were conducted without input from the surviving victims. The clandestine nature of the proceedings was originally approved by a federal judge so that a jury would not be prejudiced against BP if the issue went to trial. Reuters has more.
The victims claimed [PDF reply memorandum] the plea was in violation of the 2004 Crime Victims Rights Act [text; DOJ backgrounder], although the lower court ruled that it complied with the law. The negotiated plea is binding, meaning the judge has no discretion in sentencing if it is upheld. BP currently faces litigation [JURIST news report] and an ongoing Congressional investigation [Anchorage Daily News report] over oil spills in Alaska.