HOW YOU CAN HELP ANIMALS!
By reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation any information that comes your way via the Internet, Email, or in any other manner concerning “Crush Videos.”
In April 2010 the Supreme Court of the United States, by a vote of 8-1, in the case of United States v. Stevens, held unconstitutional the federal statute (18 U.S.C. Section 48) which made it a crime to knowingly create, sell, or possess “a depiction of animal cruelty.”
ISAR had submitted an amicus curiae (“friend-of-the-Court”) brief in the case and our Chairman, Professor Henry Mark Holzer, presented two audio commentaries about it—one after our brief was filed and the other following oral argument.
The Court’s eight member majority ruled that the statute was “overbroad,” meaning that the law could be interpreted to suppress speech of activities involving animals which, though distasteful to many (like hunting), were legal. In other words, the Court objected to the potentially broad sweep of the statute, not its laudable intention to protect animals from certain forms of unquestionable cruelty by suppressing depictions of that cruelty.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court very nearly invited Congress to craft a statute narrowly reflecting the federal legislature’s substantial interest in curbing cruelty to animals that took the form of crush videos–a statute which would not be overbroad, but targeted more specifically to the goal that all members of the Court shared: ending the scourge of crush videos (and dog fighting, and similar barbaric conduct).
Accepting that invitation, effective December 9, 2010, Congress promptly reenacted Section 48 as the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010. In essence, the statute now criminalizes knowing conduct that creates, sells, markets, advertises, exchanges, or distributes an animal crush video that:
We’ll spare you the gruesome details of why Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice, who made crush videos, were indicted in the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, on (1) four counts of creation and one count of distribution of animal crush videos in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 48, (2) one count of engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1466(a), and (3) one count of production of transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1465.
Taking a page from the defense’s playbook in the Stevens case, in the federal trial court Richards and Justice asked the judge to dismiss the indictment because Section was an unconstitutional abridgement of their “free speech.”
The federal district judge agreed, primarily because the defendants’ “free speech” was not of a type the courts have considered unprotected, such as obscenity and speech incidental to criminal conduct.
On appeal, to its credit the government argued that as written new Section 48 punished only the type of speech that is unprotected and thus the law was not overbroad, as had been the prior Section 48 ruled unconstitutional in the Stevens case.
On June 13, 2014, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously reversed the district court.
The court began its analysis by observing that for new Section 48(a) (2) to apply animal crush videos must be “obscene,” a crucial element of the crime but not one defined in the statute itself.
To provide that definition, the Court of Appeals accepted the one articulated by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 obscenity case of Miller v. California.
Under that test, the Court of Appeals ruled that the requisite “obscene” element of the statute would be satisfied by “the [defendants’] wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.”
The court’s reversal sent the case back to the federal district court for trial, which is yet to occur.
Under the facts, the defendants should be convicted. If they are–either by trial or plea–they should be sentenced to the maximum 7 years imprisonment on the Section 48 counts alone, with further punishment imposed on the two obscenity counts of the indictment. Fines should be imposed at the maximum amount allowed by law.
It should be noted that in upholding Section 48–thus condemning wanton torture and killing of animals, and speaking approvingly of federal and state animal cruelty laws–the Court of Appeals has struck a significant blow for animal rights, albeit in the limited arena of unspeakable human conduct.