July 18, 2008
Videos that show animal cruelty is not illegal, court rules
By DAVID G. SAVAGE
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON ’ In a setback for the animal-rights movement, a U.S. appeals court struck down on free-speech grounds Friday a federal law that made it a crime to sell videos of dogs fighting and other acts of animal cruelty.
All 50 states have laws against the abuse of animals, the appeals court said, but "a depiction of animal cruelty" is protected by the First Amendment.
The ruling overturns a Virginia man's conviction, the nation's first under the law. Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., advertised and sold two videos of pit bulls fighting each other and a third showing the pit bulls attacking hogs and wild boars.
He sold the videos to prosecutors in Pittsburgh, was prosecuted, convicted and given three years in prison.
In Friday's decision, the appeals court in Philadelphia, by a 10-3 vote, said it was not prepared to recognize a new category of speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment.
The Justice Department had no reaction Friday to the ruling. Normally, however, the government appeals to the Supreme Court when a federal law is struck down.