U.S. courts have a perturbing history of excluding evidence of violence against animals in animal liberation cases. The prosecution has framed defendants as senseless vandals, thieves, and even terrorists.
NATASHA LENNERD: In criminal trials, judges routinely rule that certain evidence or testimony does not get presented to the jury. By and large, these rulings to exclude evidence benefit the defendant: Gruesome images of a murder victim, for example, are regularly kept out of the courtroom to mitigate unfair prejudice against the accused.
In a recent uptick of cases against animal rights activists, who face hefty charges for removing ailing animals from farms, the typical logic behind keeping evidence from a jury is flipped on its head. The prosecutors, rather than defendants, have sought — often successfully — to suppress all mention during trial of animal cruelty even though it is the very issue that should be at the core of these cases.
Next month, a Utah judge will hear pretrial motions on the exclusion of evidence in a case against two members of the animal liberation group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE. The activists face charges of burglary and theft for removing two suffering piglets from a hog farm in 2017, for which they could be sentenced to more than a decade in prison. The Utah attorney general is seeking to exclude all evidence and testimony relating to the torturous treatment of animals, including a horrifying video filmed by the activists as they removed the pigs.
If the attorney general is successful, the ruling will kneecap the activists’ ability to robustly defend themselves and further entrench the failure of our current legal system to place the interests of nonhuman life and defendants’ rights over those of major agricultural businesses.
“I believe this is a highly unethical and unconstitutional practice. It gags activists and prevents them from telling a coherent narrative to a jury,” Jon Frohnmayer, a DxE activist and attorney, told me. “More troubling, it forestalls the analysis of animal cruelty evidence in a courtroom, which is precisely the forum where such evidence should be analyzed. It is, in short, institutional animal abuse by the very institution that should be protecting animals.”
U.S. courts have a perturbing history of excluding evidence of violence against animals in animal liberation cases. Without this essential context, the prosecution has framed defendants as senseless vandals, thieves, and even terrorists.
In the notorious mid-2000s federal case against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty located, the SHAC 7, as they are known, were ruling on federal terror charges for what should have been First Amendment-protected activity. During the trial, the SHAC reportedly were not allowed to even mention the horrifying treatment of animals at the Huntingdon Life Sciences testing laboratories.
“Courtroom gags on discussing violence against animals are part of the broader, perverse treatment of animals under the law,” Lauren Gazzola, a former SHAC activist who served 40 months in federal prison, told me. “Legally, animals are property. They are raw material to be turned into food or clothing or used as test tubes”…
The government and industry would seemingly sooner drop a case than allow damning testimony to be aired in a courtroom and potentially shift legal precedents around the animal produce industry — not to mention the larger narrative around what the industry does.
The very reason animal liberationists take the risks they do is to shift legal and social paradigms around the treatment of nonhuman life; the courtroom would be a key stage for this struggle but for the state’s silencing prosecutorial tactics. As Gazzola, the former SHAC activist, said, “Under the law, animals are always anything and everything but what they actually are: sentient and often cognitively complex individuals with lives worth living”. SOURCE…