Federal Appeals Court Rules that Videos of Animal Cruelty are Protected Speech Under the First Amendment

In an important decision for both environmentalists and free speech advocates, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has overturned the conviction of Robert J. Stevens of Virginia who was convicted of selling videos (including so-called “crush videos”) showing dogfighting and other acts of animal cruelty. Stevens, who not surprisingly lives in a place called of Pittsville, had been sentenced to three years in prison.

Stevens sold videos of not just pit bulls fighting each other but a third video of pit bulls tearing into hogs and wild boars.

The Court did not want to expand the scope of unprotected speech. The Supreme Court had done so in 1982 by saying that possession of child pornography could be criminalized — an exception to the rule that pictures and videos of criminal acts are generally protected.

Congress then tried to expand the scope of unprotected speech further with a law on animal cruelty and a ban on so-called “crush videos” of women torturing animals. Crush videos are sickening videos for women in high-heels crushing small animals for the pleasure of the viewer.

Judge Brooks Smith wrote: “Preventing cruelty to animals, although an exceedingly worthy goal, simply does not implicate interests of the same magnitude as protecting children from physical and psychological harm.”

For a copy of the 10-3 decision, click here

For the full story, click here.

18 thoughts on “Federal Appeals Court Rules that Videos of Animal Cruelty are Protected Speech Under the First Amendment”

  1. It is true that humans differ from other animals in terms of intelligence. However, from a biological perspective, humans are classified as animals! So using this argument a video of you killing say a supreme court judge is free speech…….

  2. “You’re speaking in generalities without providing any real specifics. TV has changed. We see more violence each and every day. And in response we see more crime, each and every day, and those crimes being more brutal.”

    Generalities? Why do you think I mentioned Ed Gein by name? A man who in the late 50’s made clothing and furniture from human corpses. Did Tarantino’s films travel back in time to corrupt that poor demented fellow? No, indeed not, all it took for him was to be slightly insane, be raised in an aweful marriage, and schooled in the most horrible aspects of the old testament. And oh how much you can read about how bad and immoral a place the world was in the old testament.

    Generalities? Really? How specific do you want? Spanish Inquisition? KKK? Holocaust? Italian Mafia? Russian Mafia? Drug Running? Slave trade? Ethnic cleansing? Generalities? Really? They are all terrible moral blights on human history. All of them happened despite the fact that Tarantino films had yet to be made. If we used to be so damn good, when the hell was it?

    Hell, in the sixties most southerners still believed science had proven black men and women had smaller brains. Don’t patronize me with stories of the good ole days where decency and morality ruled just 40 years ago. It’s complete bull corn. Murderers, rapists, gangsters, thugs, torturers, anarchists, mutilators, etc. etc. etc.. all exsisted well before today without the interference of modern day hollywood. And it was unsurprisingly just as terrible a thing then as it is now.

    It’s not like we youngsters are sitting around looking forward to a good day of hamster stomping. And, I could convincingly argue that even if we were, it would still be a damn sight better than some of the good ole cross burning, gay bashing, womanizing, etc. etc. etc… events and ideas of the 60’s.

    With all due respect.

  3. When good, reasonable, intelligent people like you Josh, start demanding that Hollywood polices itself a little, and cleans up some of this “uber-violence” then they’ll listen.

    But as long as the decent folks in society are fine with it, then nothings going to change.

  4. Josh
    1, July 21, 2008 at 6:34 am
    Dear Bartlebee,

    Let me clarify a couple of things. The point of listing those names was to show that people existed with these tendencies long ago. These things are not new, and they are not necissarily more acceptable today than before.

    Let me clarify, that they are “new”. Our morality has declined dramatically over the past few decades. I grew up in the 1960’s, and what we saw on our TV’s is NOTHING like the violence we see now.

    THATS changed. THATS declined.

    You’re speaking in generalities without providing any real specifics. TV has changed. We see more violence each and every day. And in response we see more crime, each and every day, and those crimes being more brutal.

    Just because there was less information “readily” available in the 1960’s didn’t mean that if some idiot raped and killed a little girl, that we didn’t hear about it. Stuff like that was front page news, headlines on TV. Sure we couldn’t go to YouTube and watch it, but you’re damn skippy we heard about it.

    The fact is study after study has been done, proving irrefutably tha violent images on television does indeed increase the violent reactions of the viewer, particularly in children. Its a no brainer. We KNOW this.

    Its not news Bartlebee’s revealing. Its OLD news.

    The problem is, folks like you don’t want to admit it. Just like most global warming opponents really just don’t want to give up their SUV’s, most people don’t want to see tighter controls on the airway. And I’m not advocating censorship, as much as I am in trying to change a mindset.

    You can’t put a kid in front of a TV, let him watch 8000 murders before he’s in Jr High, and expect it not to impact him. It does. And it will.

  5. I apologize if the previous post is unreadable. I wrote it very very late and I am not really awake. Sorry if you muddled through all of that BBee.

  6. Dear Bartlebee,

    Let me clarify a couple of things. The point of listing those names was to show that people existed with these tendencies long ago. These things are not new, and they are not necissarily more acceptable today than before. Take for instance this particular case. If this had occured some 40 years ago (the stated amount of time you admit to viewing our perported decline into ape like anarchy), it would have occured in a country without PETA. The exact organization intended to help raise awareness of these types of activities (arguably evidence of our cultures attempt to correct a moral problem leftover from your generation). Moreover, if the decision of this case had been handed down 40 years ago, the likelyhood of your learning about it would be significantly reduced as I point out below. There are many things about modern society that might seemingly indicate a decline in morals, civility, and decency without actually doing so.

    1. Sensationalizing stories… It has long been noted that the news from our telivisions is dominated by primarily bad news. (Local shootings beat rescued puppies in ratings every time.) This creates an impression of increased crime and declining do gooders without the necessity for an actual change in the frequency of either.

    2. Access to information… in our current society comes at a click. You now have nearly constant and instant information accessability. This increases the likelyhood of your learning about something ten fold. Combined with sensationalism is particularly devastating, creating a world where everyone can learn and read about all of the terrible things happening in any corner of the world at anytime. And, all this can happen without a real moral decline.

    In addition to those points there are several others. But more importantly, when I point out that history paints the picture of a world that improves over time (morally speaking) it is not proof otherwise to site the last 40 years of history, even without the aforementioned facors. The history of civilization is over thousands of years. Want to know what humans were like before modern civilization? You might need to look a little further back than your own lifetime. Try reading about the ancient South American Indians, Chinese Dynasties, Egyptian Pharoes, Medieval Monarchs, Sultans, British Imperialism, etc., etc., etc…. You will find that what I said is true. World history clearly shows a slow, but steady and undeniable march towards progressive thinking, despite minor or even major setbacks in moral betterment the world has continued to improve.

  7. Oh and I didn’t mean you were a fool. That came out poorly. That was just a figure of speech, speaking in general.

  8. America’s on its way, rapidly, because of things like how we handle our money to the values we as a nation, put up on the silver screen for all the world to see, to becoming the international “ghetto” of the planet.

    Our love for violence on the big screen, is what helped mold our national tolerance for war. Even though we’d lived for decades in relative calm and peace, with no real wars for decades, our constant worship of war, which started out as innocent enough historical curiosity coupled with reasonable entertainment, and turned into a virtual visual celebration of bloodlust of epic proportions.

    When I was a kid, you didn’t see really violent acts on television, not like the ones you see today. You maybe saw the cop fire his gun, and a puff of smoke, as the bad guy clutches his chest and falls down, but you didn’t see it often. Now, you see acts that you couldn’t even see in the movies in a rated film when I was a kid. In fact, the average kid today see EIGHT THOUSAND MURDERS, before he ever finishes elementary school. Thats 8000 murders.

    If you’re old enough and knew someone from England, back in the day, you’d know that British schools had a different approach to learning than US schools. British schools back in the day used to teach by repitition. Just repeat whatever it was, never mind the steps to solving, just repeat, over and over, and you’d learn it. And it worked like magic. Because the way our brains work, is like burning grooves in a record album. Chemicals like Myelin cause changes within the synapse and in the cell structure to effectively “burn in” the memory. Burn in the idea.

    So when a kid, sees EIGHT THOUSAND MURDERS on television and in the movies before he ever hits puberty, then it doesn’t take too much IQ to discern that seeing that much violence, over and over and over, literally “burning” the images into his brain, is most likley going to have a keen impact on that childs mental processes.

    8000 Murders. Before he even hits Junior High.

    And the worst part is, TV and films are just getting more and more violent and sick, with each passing year. Soon, what we think is horrible and shocking now in the movies, will be “usual fare” on the telly for our upcoming generations.

    In 1997 a shootout between LA Police officers and 2 heavily armed gun men, who were also heavily armored took place in the streets of North Hollywood.

    Only 2 years earlier, the movie “HEAT” showed us all this same sort of daring, daylight robbery of a bank, using heavy weaponary and body armor, to hold off police while making their escape.

    We saw it on the silver screen, and two years later, we saw it on the evening news.

    People love to shrug it off, and say “hey, hasn’t hurt me none”, but this is the response of a fool. The fact is, it has hurt, and is hurting, us all.

  9. Josh
    1, July 20, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Oddly, history seemingly proves your prediction inaccurate

    On the contrary, history shows us that moral decline spirals downwards in societies where it creeps up. And I’ve watched it, for the last 40 some years, turn from a world where watching television made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves, to making us wretch with disgust.

    In fact, theres a new tv show out now, about that very thing. People “wretching”. Vomiting.

    Because “thats entertainment”.

    You can’t watch a new movie these days about any topic, without watching an automobile come from off camera and splatter some idiot standing in the road. You can’t find morals any more, or good values in the movies. At least not often. Now its a clusterf$%k of immoral, ugly, backstabbing people, because folks decided that was what life was all about.

    The truth of course, is life is what we make of it, and what we’ll sit still for. These movies, along with the ultra violent heros we are constantly bombarding them with, are rotting the minds of our young people, and will help churn out more and more sick f#$ks, until no one will want to have anything to do with us.

  10. Josh
    1, July 20, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I also don’t forsee the bleak dismal future you’ve predicted coming to fruition because of a few pretend snuff films

    Most people never do see the future, until its upon them.

    And if it was a “few” pretend snuff films, then we wouldn’t be in trouble. But its not.

    Its an ever growing cornicopia of overly graphic, detailed sick tributes to all that could possibly be wrong with us, and beyond.

    It started with Pulp Fiction, as they made it “fun” to watch a black mans head explode inside of a caddilac. And it never slowed down.

    And its showing no signs of slowing down in the near future.

  11. Wow, little over the edge there Bartlebee. It wasn’t the younger generation that produced Ed Gein, John Gacy, Hitler, Caesar, Vlad the Impaler…….. Interestingly enough, I don’t think Tarintino’s films are great, but I also don’t forsee the bleak dismal future you’ve predicted coming to fruition because of a few pretend snuff films. Oddly, history seemingly proves your prediction inaccurate. Over time history has shown an overall and continued march towards progressive thinking, not the other way around.

  12. American’s are turning into an ugly, pitiful people, where stuff like this is becoming more and more common, and welcomed by so many of our younger generation. Ideas they get from the pieces of human sh$t in this world, like Quentin Tarintino, and the other sick, miserable vermin who churn out movies like “SAW”, and “TURISTAS”, to fill our young peoples minds with a love for unspeakable torture.

    People can kid themselves all they want that these movies do not influence people, but they do. Only a fool wouldn’t be able to see the obvious influence on young minds who watch countless hours of people mercilessly torturing helpless victims to death. Who is dumb enough to think that would not influence the viewer?

    Hell give me 60 seconds and a cartoon camel and I’ll make your kids think drawing in poison gas into their lungs is “cool”.

    I tell you I’m almost glad I’m getting closer to death with each passing day. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where our young people, well into their twenties, enjoy a evening of torturing small animals to death, then sharing their evil deeds with their friends on YouTube.

  13. If the makers of the film were in any way involved in the act, then their video is essentially a complicit part of the act and the cameraman an accomplice.

    Free speech rights protect the right of an inncoent bystander to video tape an event, such as a news journalist, or tourist with a camera.

    They do NOT protect someone from conspiring to commit a crime by agreeing to go along with the crime to create a video of that crime, as “part” of the crime.

    This wasn’t a journalist happening by, or tipped off to a crime in progress or about to be committed. This was a couple of inbred goons, conspiring together to commit criminal acts for profit. And there are laws in Virginia, as well as the rest of the country against “profiting” from a crime.

    The video tape was part of a conspiracy to commit a crime, and thus cannot in the least stretch of the imagination be considered a candidate for free speech protections.

    If the court “wanted” to get this guy, all they’d have to do is charge the crimes accordingly, and classify the video accordingly.

    Free speech on this one, is a laugh. Free speech does not give one the right to conspire to commit crimes, and as PART of that crime, videotape it for profit. The video was PART of the crime, and hence should have recieved no protections of free speech whatsoever.

  14. I agree that the First Amendment should protect the ghouls who make these disgusting videos, but if these can’t be stopped, how the hell are free speech zones allowed in this country? How can a legal visitor to a public forum be arrested for wearing a shirt of the other candidate under this same First Amendment that allows these videos?

  15. JT:

    Personally, I encourage the Constitutional protection of any evidence that conclusively proves a crime. Film away, it makes the prosecutor’s job easy as those lovely teenagers in Florida who attacked their classmate on YouTube found out. The stupidity of the modern criminal never ceases to amaze me. As for the actors and producers of “crush” videos, here’s hoping for their reincarnation as gerbils.

  16. Josh:

    “The world isn’t black and white. I[t] hurts sometimes to have to make a hard decision.”

    Right you are of course, but the world is black and white when your mindset is 1950 and not 2008.

  17. Martha,

    The world isn’t black and white. I hurts sometimes to have to make a hard decision. In this case the courts tried to decide between the interests of animals and further limitations on freedom of speach. You may believe that common sense dictates that these videos be outlawed. Certainly, morally it is a more clear cut picture, but consider the slippery slope as you criminalize even video of illegal acts?

    Case 1 – An innocent puppy is killed and video taped by a friend for future enjoyment. Of course the tape is evidence ok the killers criminal acts, but what for the friend and of anyone else who might watch for their own pleasure?

    Case 2 – A video where someone convincingly pretends to kill a puppy. Now the people in the video committed no crime, but the people who may watch it are no different than the first. Morally they are coequals, but should they be criminalized as well?

    Case 3 – Someone videotapes his friend in his first drug deal in order to later relive the excitment. While the friend performed an illegal act, did the cameraman?

    Case 4 – A documentary about a drug dealer is made showing actual drug deals. Illegal?

    Please understand that I am playing Devil’s advocate here, but there is some logic behind the courts decision. The court’s argument that further limitations on protected speech blurs the lines of law is not a weak argument. In addition, however wrong animal torture is, the court’s assertion that it does not rise to the level of child rape is probably right. Not because I believe there is a significant difference in the criminals that commit the offences, or the acts themselves, but because video of child rape is potentially hazardous to the victim throughout their lifetime. Conversely, I would submit that is not commonly the case in animal abuse videos.

    With all that said, I feel I have left myself open to attack here. I am the owner of many pets and I love them dearly. I don’t think I could necessarily restrain myself from physical violence with anyone who found enjoyment in the torture of animals. I just don’t believe the court arrived at this decision thoughtlessly.

    In a small aside, your attack on constitutional lawyers at the end was unfounded. Right or not, without the lawyers there would be no educated advocates for you or your rights allowed in court. If a bad decision is made, don’t take issue with the lawyers, take issue with the deciders.

  18. Yes, just keep pushing the First Amendment so far past what the founders ever intended and this is what you get.

    I don’t want to see a single whiner posting here about this.

    It was inevitable this would come about when “Constitutional Experts” like JT ram their way through common sense & gut morality via the courts.

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