LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

NEWORLEANS-As civil lawsuits mount, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has assigned a group of federal prosecutors to monitor the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and determine if any laws were broken before or after the rig explosion.

The prosecutors are assessing environmental damage and other factors.

Legal analysts say that could lead to a full blown criminal investigation into the BP spill.

'I can almost guarantee you that a grand jury will be convened to take testimony, receive documents, hear evidence about exactly what happened,' said former federal prosecutor Chic Foret.

'I think the question really is not whether criminal charges are going to be brought, but when and what type of charges,' said Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino.

Ciolino also says strict liability crimes clearly apply in this case.

'Because of the fact that some migratory birds have been harmed and that oil has been released into a navigable waterway, that alone, irrespective of fault can lead to a misdemeanor criminal prosecution,' said Ciolino.

Foret says the feds will also be looking at possible crimes after the fact.

'Has there been an obstruction of justice? Has anybody tampered with the evidence? Has anybody in testifying before Congress and Coast Guard hearings committed perjury,'he said.

Tulane Maritime Law Professor Bob Force says the Department of Justice is under a lot of pressure to do something.

'You got a lot of people down here and in other places that are calling for blood,' said Force. 'You never know how the government is going to react to that kind of public indignation.'

BP has been convicted of three environmental crimes in the last 10-years.

The company paid $50 million in criminal fines after a 2005 refinery explosion in Texas.

In 2007, BP paid $20 million for ignoring leaks in the Alaska pipeline.

In 2000, the company paid a $500,000 fine for failing to report dumping in the north slope of Alaska.

Legal analysts says BP's past record could be a factor in future criminal charges in the Deepwater Horizon case.

'There may be a culture in this company that has to change,' said Force. 'A significant criminal prosecution might help effectuate that change.'

'Also keep in mind that 11 people died as a result of this accident,' said Ciolino. 'So, you can't rule out some homicide type charges being brought against some culpable individuals for either negligent homicide or worse if the facts show that someone was reckless in causing these deaths.'

The Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources division is heading up the inquiry into the BP rig explosion.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://www.wwltv.com/story/news/gulf-oil-spill/2014/08/25/14315766/