Federal Anti-Cruelty Law Stands

By on March 26, 2015 with 10 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Without much of anybody but The HSUS and the participants in the case noticing, we gained a major victory this week in our decades-long quest to assert and defend the federal government’s right to crack down on animal abuse. The U.S. Supreme Court elected not to hear an appeal of a federal appellate court ruling upholding a key federal anti-cruelty law. The Supreme Court action means that the appellate court’s ruling stands, affirming the role of the federal government in stopping the sale of despicable videos showing stomping, impaling, and other gruesome means of killing animals in order to stimulate deviant sexual interests among certain viewers.

In 2012, when Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice were caught in Texas producing eight videos that involved the torture and killing of puppies, chickens, and kittens for a sexual fetish video, Houston police arrested the couple and they were charged under both federal and state law. In cases where people profit from such horrendous animal cruelty, we believed that the law had to speak, and that’s precisely why we worked so hard to pass a law criminalizing that behavior.

It turned out to be the first prosecution under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 – legislation to prohibit the commerce in animal crush videos.

Their conviction was challenged, and a U.S. District Court held that the law was unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment. Fortunately, federal prosecutors appealed the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit where, with help from an amicus brief filed by The HSUS and our pro bono partners at Latham & Watkins, the panel of judges was persuaded to reverse the lower court, reinstate the law, and allow the prosecution to go forward.

Predictably, Richards and Justice were not ready to give up and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ ruling. It was that appeal that the Supreme Court chose not to take up.

This was a much better outcome than five years ago when the Supreme Court struck down the original federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act as unconstitutional. That 1999 law prohibited the creation and commercial trade of depictions of living animals being maimed, mutilated, tortured, or killed—much like the current Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. And just as the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about the law, The HSUS released the results of an extensive investigation which found these horrendous videos were making a resurgence due in no small part to the decision of the courts.

We worked with our allies in Congress to tweak the language to conform it to the original Supreme Court ruling. And now the outcome is different and better and right. It is a federal crime to profit from the commerce in crush videos and the full measure of the law can be used against those who are behind the camera and cause animals to suffer such sickening pain and torment.

Animal Rescue and Care, Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Annoula Wylderich says:

    Thank you, Wayne. As an animal lover, advocate, concerned citizen and member of the human race, I understand the important role that legislation plays in protecting all species. We need to be active participants in this process and let our representatives know where we stand on issues. You and your staff do such a great job of informing and educating us. . .after all, we’re all part of the same team!

  2. Judith A. Dawe says:

    Let the people in the courts making these decisions watch the videos. What kind of people could make these videos and consider themselves human beings. I will never stop fighting for the animals, who make our lives soooo much better and peaceful.

  3. Tina Stjohn says:

    This needs to be stopped its inhumane treatment and horrific cruel shame

  4. helen mcandrews says:

    wayne, I hope you can comment on my comment. this is not related to the crush videos. I would like to get your input on this thought. our county forest preserve owns and operates facilities that have animals, some have horses, some have wildlife being rehabilitated. all tax supported. what should be their policy regarding retiring draft horses and riding horses? this has been controversial since the leadership of the county forest preserve has no problem sending horses to auctions or adopting the horses out with few requirements. as a tax payer I want my tax dolllars supporting policies that are humane and consider the animals well being first and foremost. I do not support their actions

    • Patricia Silva says:

      I hope Wayne will answer your question. If not, please write to him. These kinds of lax animal laws are so cruel to the animals who get caught in the web of using them, telling themselves that these animals will be okay. In so many cases they aren’t.

  5. Ellen Wilson says:

    Our society needs to recognize it as a major red flag when someone gains pleasure from torturing animals. I believe people who commit these acts should receive mandatory psychological help as well as be held accountable by the legal system. Even those who don’t consider cruelty to animals to be very serious because “it’s just an animal” need to realize that people who commit violent acts against other people often start with animals. Perhaps by taking this behavior seriously on the first offense perpetrators would get the help they need and hopefully it would prevent future abuse of animals and people.

  6. Jennifer H says:

    Wouldn’t want to see these people around children, or any person they could overpower in general. Some seriously deviant criminals start off with animals before moving on to human beings.

  7. Arleen P says:

    These laws are of utmost importance because the perpetrators are examples of a deadly disease in society which involves child welfare and spousal abuse. In over 90 percent of child neglect and abuse cases, the family pet has been severely abused or neglected first. The abuser is sending a “message”, a particularly bad one, which makes it easier to mentally defeat their intended victims in order to begin physical abuse. Several years ago, the Texas Legislature actually allowed its laws on spousal abuse to lapse! However, due to the overwhelming evidence that theatening the family pet is usually used as leverage to ” make the spouse or children take their physical beatings”, a very astute animal rights group accomplished passing a law making abuse of an animal a felony. It was legal to beat your wife to within an inch of her life, but you could go to prison for killing the family’s beloved pet. Texas got its act together, and priorities back in line legislatively within a year.
    I will never forget the catalyst: a husband put his wife’s little dog to “cook” in the microwave. She came home to find this horrific thing. Giving a voice to the abused, and someone on the ” outside” to hear it, may be as simple as calling the local authorities about a neglected or abused animal. Because it is only the tip of the iceberg of what happens behind closed doors. Evil should be forced into the light, so it cannot hide in the dark.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.