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U.S. v. SHAC 7

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Synopsis

United States v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (“SHAC7”) (amicus)
In support of animal rights activists convicted of violating the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) for website postings and organizing demonstrations.

In October 2007, CCR filed an amicus brief on behalf of CCR, National Lawyers Guild, and First Amendment Lawyers Association in support of First Amendment rights of the defendants in the case US v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Inc., et al, 06-4211, U.S. Court of Appeals for Third Circuit.  Defendants were convicted of violating the Animal Enterprise Protection Act based on their words and organizational internet postings. After the Third Circuit affirmed the convictions in late 2009, CCR filed an amicus brief urging the Circuit to rehear the case en banc., and grant cert.

Attorneys Matthew Strugar and Rachel Meeropol have represented CCR on this case.

Status

On November 16, 2010, lawyers filed an amicus brief on behalf of CCR and the First Amendment Lawyers Association urging the Supreme Court to grant certiorari that the prosecution of activists for their menacing speech at public demonstrations and their internet advocacy violates the First Amendment. Click here to read it.

On March 7, 2011 the Supreme Court denied cert.

Description

Background on SHAC
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) is an international direct action animal rights campaign to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), Europe's largest contract animal-testing laboratory, that tests products like household cleaners, drugs, pesticides, and food additives on around 75,000 animals every year - from rats to wild baboons.  Through residential protests and secondary targeting – protesting companies that were suppliers or affiliates of HLS – SHAC-USA pressured investors, security companies, and other business affiliates to withdraw their  ties with HLS.  In 2000, HLS shares plunged and HLS was dropped from the New York Stock Exchange.

The main organizing tool of SHAC-USA was their website.  As reported by the Toronto Star, “home addresses for corporate officers and other employees of target companies would be posted. Gleaned from public sources such as annual reports and phone books, they would include a disclaimer saying SHAC-USA advocated only legal protest.”

Despite the website disclaimer, some individuals – never identified - carried out unlawful protests against HLS and its affiliates.  Some homes and cars were vandalized, gates were chained shut and blocked, and vaguely (at best) threatening phone calls were made. The SHAC-USA website reported on both the legal and illegal protest activity against HLS.

The Case
In 2004, the US indicted six SHAC-USA activists and the organization itself for conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). The AEPA criminalizes conduct “causing physical disruption of an animal enterprise” which “damages or causes the loss of any property.”  18 U.S.C. §43(a)(1-2).  ‘Damages’ include “loss of profits” and the AEPA does not exempt lawful protest activity (thereby criminalizing effective lawful protest activity).  18 U.S.C. §43(d)(3).  All six activists were convicted and sentenced to four to six years. No evidence was submitted that the SHAC7 participated in the unlawful protest activity, directed it, or even knew of it in advance – only that they ran the website.

CCR wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the defendants in their appeal to the 3rd Circuit  challenging the convictions as an incitement prosecution (under a different name) that flies in the face of well-established Supreme Court First Amendment doctrine. The Third Circuit issued a 2-1 opinion last month upholding all of the convictions. The Panel acknowledged that much of Appellants’ speech and advocacy, in itself, was protected by the First Amendment.  Still, the majority held that Appellants’ “speeches, protests and web postings,” could be criminalized as “implied threats” given the broad historical context of one act of violence by animal rights activists in other countries, and acts of property destruction in this country. United States v. Fullmer, 584 F.3d 132, 156 (3d Cir. 2009).

The defendants have moved for en banc review, and CCR submitted an amicus brief in support of that motion.  CCR’s brief argued that the panel’s broad holding erroneously punishes publicly disseminated menacing speech pursuant to the true threats doctrine, despite clear Supreme Court precedent protecting such speech under the incitement standard. CCR asked the Third Circuit to grant rehearing to determine and explain how the true threats doctrine applies to publicly disseminated speech and how the true threats doctrine interacts with the incitement doctrine. That petition was denied on June 13, 2010, leaving the four to six-year sentences to stand.

In November 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the United States Supreme Court to hear the SHAC-7 case U.S. v. Kjonaas.  In an amicus brief filed November 16, 2010 on behalf of CCR and the First Amendment Lawyers Association, lawyers argued that the prosecution of activists for their menacing speech at public demonstrations and their internet advocacy violates the First Amendment.

 

Timeline

October 29, 2007
CCR filed amicus brief on behalf of CCR, National Lawyers Guild, and First Amendment Lawyers Association in support of First Amendment rights of seven defendant appellants.

October 14, 2009
Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions of the defendants rejecting First Amendment claims.

December 4, 2009
CCR filed Amicus Brief for Rehearing En Banc

The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions in late 2009. CCR's filed an amicus brief urging the Circuit to rehear the case en banc. That petition was denied on June 13, 2010, leaving the four to six-year sentences to stand. There is no written decision.

In November 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the United States Supreme Court to hear the SHAC-7 case U.S. v. Kjonaas.  In an amicus brief filed November 16, 2010 on behalf of CCR and the First Amendment Lawyers Association, lawyers argued that the prosecution of activists for their menacing speech at public demonstrations and their internet advocacy violates the First Amendment.