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June 15, 2009

Fla. Attorney General, The HSUS Ask US Supreme Court to Uphold Ban on Depictions of Extreme Animal Cruelty

25 States Join Florida in Brief to Highest Court

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and The Humane Society of the United States, joined by half of the country's state Attorneys General, today filed "friend of the court" or amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a crucial federal animal cruelty law struck down by the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

In 1999, the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act banned the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty. The federal law was prompted by an HSUS investigation that uncovered an underground subculture of "animal crush" videos that showed women, often in high-heeled shoes, impaling and crushing to death puppies, kittens and other small animals, catering to those with a fetish for this aberrant behavior. The law halted the proliferation of animal crushing operations, and has also been used to crack down on commercial dogfighting operations, in which the animals often fight to the death for the amusement of viewers.

"Animal fighting is a serious crime, violent and heinous in nature, and depictions of that and other extreme animal cruelty should indeed be prohibited under the federal law," said Attorney General McCollum. "I supported this law in Congress and I am honored to have the chance to do so again as Florida's Attorney General."

Last year, in U.S. v. Stevens, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the depictions for which Stevens was being prosecuted were "protected speech" and that preventing animal cruelty was "not a compelling state interest." The U.S. Solicitor General requested that the Supreme Court review of the Third Circuit's ruling and was granted certiorari.

The Attorney General's amicus brief on the merits states animal cruelty is often closely associated with other serious crimes such as gang activity, drug dealing and violent felonies. The HSUS's amicus brief on the merits of the case emphasizes that videos of animals being tortured are not protected speech, and preventing animal cruelty is a compelling state interest — not only because our society values animals and their well-being, but also because people who perpetrate these acts of cruelty are often involved in other criminal behavior, including violence against people.

"The federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law is an essential complement to state anti-cruelty and animal fighting laws, which alone do not equip law enforcement with the tools needed to stamp out this horrific form of extreme animal cruelty," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "We wouldn't allow the sale of videos of actual child abuse or murder staged for the express purpose of selling videos of such criminal acts, and the same legal principles apply to despicable acts of animal cruelty."

The legislation was successfully championed in Congress by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., who said at the time that the law was needed to protect animals and "because numerous studies have found that people who commit violent acts on animals will later commit violent acts on people." As a U.S. Congressman, McCollum voted in favor of the legislation, which passed in 1999 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Before the law was enacted, there were some 2,000 crush videos available in the marketplace, selling for $15 to $300 each. Over the last decade, that market all but disappeared. However, since last July, crush videos have re-proliferated on the internet in response to the appellate court's ruling.

As described in The HSUS' brief, some of the depictions criminalized by the act include a woman slowly crushing a small kitten to death as the kitten endures excruciating torture; an orchestrated fight to the death where tortured dogs and puppies rip the skin and ears off their opponents and bite through each other's ears, paws and neck; and brutalized dogs attacking a defenseless feral hog in a small pen with no escape.

Animal fighting, defined as fighting between roosters or other birds or between dogs, bears, or other animals, is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines per count. In May 2008, Attorney General McCollum and The HSUS teamed up to unveil a cooperative initiative to combat animal fighting in Florida by providing monetary rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting.  The reward program, which offers up to $5,000 for successful tips, is funded by The HSUS. In December, a toll-free tip line, 1-877-TIP-HSUS (847-4787), was established to further aid this initiative.

Copies of the filings from the Attorneys General and The HSUS are available upon request.

* The other states' Attorneys General joining the amicus brief are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org. 

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