Wayne Hsiung, who represented himself, was prohibited from showing the jury photo and video evidence of animal cruelty and unable to speak to the news media before or during the trial under a gag order issued by the judge in violation of his First Amendment rights.
CRESCENZO VELLUCCI: Attorney Wayne Hsiung was found guilty Thursday by a jury here in Santa Rosa County Superior Court after a two-month trial – including six days of jury deliberation – of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass charges linked to nonviolent mass “open rescues” of injured animals at Sunrise (chicken) Farms in Petaluma, Sonoma County May 29, 2018.
Hsiung, representing himself at trial, was immediately cuffed and taken to jail to await a sentencing hearing at the end of November, according to a statement by supporters. The court did not grant Hsiung bail until his sentencing.
The jury hung on similar charges related to an open rescue at a 2019 protest at another Sonoma County facility, the Reichardt Duck Farm.
Earlier in the week, the jury told the court it could not come to decision on three of the four original counts against Hsiung, but the judge sent the jury back to try once again, and Thursday it came back with guilty verdicts…
Much of Hsiung’s planned defense was thwarted by the judge, according to court documents, including Hsiung’s attempted use of key defenses, including the right to trespass under CA Penal Code 597e, an animal cruelty statute, and the defense of necessity, the committing of a potential crime to prevent cruelty to animals.
The jury never heard these defenses after Judge Passaglia prohibited Hsiung from arguing either defense before the jury, and “only permitted him to discuss 597e in the context of a mistake of law’” defense, pursuant to which Hsiung argued that he had a good faith belief that his actions were legal,” said DxE.
The defense called 12 witnesses in addition to Hsiung’s testimony, including others who participated in the rescues, Hasting’s law professor Hadar Aviram, and veterinarian Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg.
“Every witness who participated in the actions testified about their good faith belief in the legal right to enter private property to aid animals, based on legal opinions they reviewed from Professor Hadar Aviram or former federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper,” explained DxE.
Hsiung, who represented himself, was also unable to speak to the news media before or during the trial under a gag order issued by the judge even after the ACLU urged her to not violate Hsiung’s First Amendment rights.
Supporters also said the judge erred by prohibiting the defense from “showing the jury photo and video evidence of animal cruelty that disproved these testimonies, except on a few limited occasions for direct impeachment.”
The defense noted, “Michael Weber, co-owner of Sunrise, testified, ‘There were no sick and injured animals on the ranch in any of the buildings’ on May 29, 2018. He likened the chances of finding a sick or injured chicken at the facility to the chances of finding a polar bear there.
“However, Hsiung presented a video taken 11 days prior to the action showing a hen with an eye tumor, struggling to walk or reach food, which resulted from overcrowding-induced pecking at the facility. Weber also described the chickens’ environment as ‘stress-free’ and ‘humane,’ but during cross-examination, he admitted that birds regularly cannibalize each other due to stress and disease.”
DxE said after the verdict, “By appealing the guilty verdict, Hsiung has the chance to establish case law in the appellate court…(to) not only vindicate his actions but also provide a stronger legal foundation for the defense of animals in future cases.”
“While this verdict presents a short-term challenge, it also marks a critical step on the journey to strengthen legal rights for animals,” says DxE lead organizer and former defendant, Almira Tanner.
DxE said the “mass open rescue at Sunrise Farms was prompted by investigations that occurred in 2016 through 2018, which found that despite Proposition 2 banning intensive confinement of animals on factory farms, Sunrise was confining tens of thousands of birds in towering 15-foot tall rows of tightly packed cages, inside of which many birds were sick, dying, and dead.”
DxE maintains, “Investigators also found violations of California’s animal cruelty statute, Penal Code 597, including injured birds who were unable to access food or water. On the day of the Sunrise action in May 2018, (a police officer) promised Hsiung that they could walk through the farm together to provide aid and remove any sick or injured birds. However, no inspection ever occurred, and body camera footage shown in court depicted the officers admitting to merely “checking a box” instead of taking the activists’ animal cruelty concerns seriously.” SOURCE…
STATEMENT FROM WAYNE HSIUNG AFTER GUILTY VERDICT:
I am in jail. And I’m grateful.
I want to thank the court, the prosecutor, the jury, and everyone in this case — including the farm owners — for their words and efforts over the last two months. I have believed for the last 20 years that it is crucial for us to discuss the issues we discussed in a court of law. And you gave me, and the animals I represent, a chance to do that. I have immense gratitude for that.
I want to also apologize for any word that caused offense, any failures on my part to live up to the high standards of nonviolence (in both my actions and my heart), and in any disruption or disturbance that resulted from the things I’ve done. In this courtroom or beyond.