The Supreme Court released its verdict on U.S. v. Stevens today, finding for the respondent, Robert Stevens, throwing out his 2005 conviction and permanently striking down the "Crush Act," the 1999 law under which he was convicted. The court had been weighing the merits of the case since October 2009.
The Crush Act (U.S. Code Section 48) was a 1999 federal law banning the creation, sale and possession of materials depicting animal cruelty. The law was meant to stop the creation and sale of crush videos and other depictions of illegal acts of animal cruelty "in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed." Stevens, who marketed videos of dog and hog-dog fighting, was the first person convicted under the Crush Act.
With the 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court has concurred with the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2008 overturned Stevens' conviction due to its interpretation of the Crush Act as an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Federal courts have long made the distinction between illegal conduct and speech about illegal conduct, which is generally protected. (The only types of speech totally beyond the protection of the First Amendment are obscenity, incitement to illegal activity, "fighting words" and child pornography.)
Moreover, the Court found the Crush Act to be substantially overbroad, arguing that its intent could be twisted for use in frivolous prosecutions—but it did not choose to decide whether a hypothetical statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. This is good news, as it opens the door for the animal protection community to propose new language for legislation that will achieve what the Crush Act was meant to do.
"Although the Crush Act was rarely used, it had the potential for aiding in the prosecution of a variety of forms of animal cruelty that are increasingly being encouraged through the dissemination of videos," says Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects. "Going forward, the ASPCA will gladly work with Congress to draft new legislation that can withstand tests of constitutionality to provide law enforcement with tools to effectively combat extreme animal abuse."
"Gothic Kitty" creator Holly Crawford has been sentenced to six months of house arrest for using a 14-gauge needle to pierce the ears, necks and tails of three kittens and then attempting to sell the maimed felines over the Internet. The 35-year-old Pennsylvania woman was further ordered to close her dog grooming business for at least two years. Despite opposition from concerned citizens, the judge ruled in favor of allowing Crawford to maintain guardianship over her other pets, including a dog, three cats and three snakes.
Crawford was initially charged after a tip led humane investigators and the state police to her home on December 17, 2008. Investigators found and seized three kittens wearing heavy piercing jewelry on their ears, necks and tails. At least one of the kittens had a thick elastic band wrapped around his tail to prevent blood flow, as a means of docking it.
Despite arguments that Crawford used sterile needles and surgical soap when piercing the kittens, a Luzerne County jury found her guilty of animal cruelty. Helping to seal the conviction was expert testimony from the ASPCA's leading forensics veterinarian, Dr. Melinda Merck, who testified that the kittens had been maimed and disfigured, had their hearing damaged, and could have died.
"I was very happy to work with the Luzerne County District Attorney's Office on this case of abuse," says Dr. Merck. "The idea of mutilating animals in such a way for profit is appalling, I am glad justice was served."
If you know of an animal who is being hurt, please report it. To report animal cruelty in New York City, call the ASPCA's tip line at (877) THE-ASPCA. Visit our Report Cruelty FAQ to learn how to report cruelty elsewhere.
Last week, we asked if you were ready to take our Challenge and boy did you answer—in a big way! Officially launched on April 8, the ASPCA $100K Challenge seeks to encourage animal welfare leaders to develop innovate ways to increase pet adoptions in their communities. We received so many amazing applications that we reached our Challenge limit of 50 contestants in less than a week! Congratulations to the following shelters and rescue groups who now have a chance to win more than $125,000 in prizes—including a grand prize grant of $100,000—and save more animals' lives!
SPCA, Inc., Lakeland, FL
Wisconsin Humane Society, Milwaukee, WI
St. Hubert's Giralda, Madison, NJ
Team: Richmond AC&C and Richmond SPCA, Richmond, VA
Kansas Humane Society, Wichita, KS
Kauai Humane Society, Kauai, HI
SPCA of Wake County Raleigh, NC
South Suburban Humane Society, Chicago Heights, IL
Animal Aid Coconut Creek, FL
Erie County SPCA, Tonawanda, NY
HS of Boulder Valley, Boulder, CO
Animal Resource Center, Dayton, OH
Irvine Animal Care Center, Irvine, CA
Jacksonville Humane Society, Jacksonville, FL
Joplin Humane Society, Joplin, MO
Larimer Humane Society, Fort Collins, CO
Louisiana SPCA, New Orleans, LA
Humane Society at Lollypop Farm, Rochester NY
Tallahassee Leon County Animal Services Center, Tallahassee, FL
Team: Geauga Humane Society and Lake Humane Society, northeast Ohio
Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, Menands NY
Team: Arizona Animal Welfare League and HALO Helping Animals Live On, Phoenix, AZ
Western PA Humane Society, Pittsburgh, PA
Atlanta Humane Society & SPCA, Atlanta, GA
Animal Rescue League of Boston, Boston, MA
Animal Welfare League, Chicago Ridge, IL
Humane Society for Southwest Washington, Vancouver, WA
Humane Society of North Texas, Fort Worth, TX
Greater Birmingham Humane Society, Birmingham, AL
Santa Fe Animal Shelter, Santa Fe, NM
Autauga County Humane Society, Prattville, AL
Calcasieu Parish Animal Services & Adoption Center, Lake Charles, LA
Northwest Organization for Animal Help (NOAH), Stanwood, WA
Kern County Animal Control, Bakersfield , CA
Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society, Isabela, PR
St. Tammany Parish Dept of Animal Services, Lacombe, LA
Capital Area Humane Society, Hilliard, OH
Southern Pines Animal Shelter, Hattiesburg, MS
Dubuque Humane Society, Dubuque, IA
City of San Jose Animal Care Center, San Jose, CA
McKamey Animal Center, Chattanooga, TN
Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society & SPCA, Tacoma WA
Animal Friends Humane Society, Hamilton, OH
Humane Society of Greater Dayton, Dayton, OH
Kent County SPCA, Camden, DE
Maui Humane Society, Maui, HI
Salt Lake County Animal Services, Salt Lake City, UT
The official competition period is August 1 through October 31, when all 50 contestants will start tracking their progress. To qualify for the grand prize grant, shelters need to save a minimum of 300 more animals from August through October 2010, compared with the same three-month period in 2009. Beyond that, the winner will be the shelter that saves the most additional animals during the same time period. The ASPCA will also grant $25,000 to the shelter that most engages its community to promote pet adoptions and reunite lost animals with their pet parents. Winners will be announced in December 2010. Stay tuned to ASPCA.org for the latest news about the ASPCA $100K Challenge.
On April 15, after reconfirming her not guilty plea to animal torture charges, Tiara Davis rejected a 60-day jail deal offered by the District Attorney. In a heavily publicized case, Davis was caught on video violently kicking and leash-choking her nine-pound Pomeranian, Sparky. The incident occurred on January 11 in the Grant Houses in Morningside Heights, the same public housing project where surveillance video captured an unrelated dog beating only two weeks prior the incident.
It was approximately 2:00 A.M. on January 11, when the NYPD's in-elevator surveillance system captured Davis beating the four-year-old dog. The 31-year-old apparently lost her temper after Sparky urinated on the elevator floor. The video clearly shows Davis punching, kicking and swinging the small dog by his neck until he blacked out. Sparky suffered multiple bruises, possible liver damage and emaciation. He is currently recuperating at the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Hospital.
"There was no justification for this violent act of cruelty," says Stacy Wolf, Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel for the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Department "I think the plea deal is generous and should be reconsidered by the defendant, I am not sure a jury would be as lenient."
Davis, who was arrested by ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Agents the same morning the beating occurred, is due back in court on May 12, where the possibility of trial awaits her.
If you know of an animal whose health is being compromised by neglect or abuse, please report it. Visit our Report Cruelty FAQ to learn how to report cruelty in your neighborhood.
Home to an estimated 3,000 puppy mills—far more than any other state—Missouri has rightly earned the nickname “Puppy Mill Capital of America.” Puppy mills are large-scale commercial dog breeding operations where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. The overcrowding and lack of basic hygiene, veterinary care and exercise that are the hallmark of puppy mills create puppies with numerous health and social issues—but it is the breeding dogs, the ones who never get to leave, who suffer the most.
However, help is on the way! Missourians for the Protection of Dogs—a coalition made up of the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Humane Society of Missouri and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation—is sponsoring a landmark ballot initiative to put the Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act before the state’s voters in November 2010. If the act reaches the ballot and passes, it will prohibit some of the worst abuses prevalent in Missouri’s commercial dog kennels—but the first step is gathering 130,000 signatures of support from Missouri voters by the end of April.
“The Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is a crucial step in combating some of the most horrific cruelty perpetuated by commercial breeders in Missouri,” says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives. “It will provide dogs with basic humane care, including sufficient food, water, housing and necessary veterinary care—things that, unfortunately, are sorely lacking in many commercial breeding facilities.”
With only a few weeks left to go before the April 27 deadline, the pressure is on. Several ASPCA staffers have volunteered their time to help count and process the flood of petition signatures, and are currently on the ground in Missouri.
“I am so happy to be part of this historic grassroots effort,” says Tawnya Mosgrove, an Illinois-based member of our Government Relations department. “Our hope is not only to help the dogs in Missouri, but that other states will follow suit with similar initiatives of their own. The work here is hard, but the end result will be worth every blister on my finger!”