Brent Justice, 51, and Ashely Richards, 22, have been indicted in the latest case involving “snuff film.” In this case, prosecutors say that the Houston couple distributed films showing the torture and killing of puppies and other animals. The case could raise a question over the scope of the federal law. According to PETA, which revealed the films to authorities, one film allegedly shows Richards “cutting the leg and slashing the neck and throat of a puppy before beheading the struggling animal with a meat cleaver.”
The federal indictment details eight videos with titles like “Crushblackluvsample” showing puppies, chickens, kittens and other animals being tortured and killed.
Here is the federal definition:
(a) Definition.— In this section the term “animal crush video” means any photograph, motion-picture film, video or digital recording, or electronic image that—
(1) depicts actual conduct in which 1 or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury (as defined in section 1365 and including conduct that, if committed against a person and in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, would violate section 2241 or 2242); and
(2) is obscene.
What is interesting is that serious bodily injury would appear to cover hunting and impaled could cover trapping. Not surprisingly, those activities are exempted under 18 U.S.C. 48:
(1) In general.— This section shall not apply with regard to any visual depiction of—
(A) customary and normal veterinary or agricultural husbandry practices;
(B) the slaughter of animals for food; or
(C) hunting, trapping, or fishing.
So, it is lawful to film the shooting or trapping of an animal if done as an outdoor activity but not as an indoor activity. There is also the absence of an exception for the use of images in non-sexual or conventional films. In many countries (and in older U.S. films), animals have been routinely subject of serious bodily injury. It will be interesting if that will be used as the basis for a challenge. This is the type of case that a defense lawyer does not want to risk going to a jury. That creates considerable pressure to reach a plea bargain. In what is not a good sign for the defendants, a Harris County magistrate suspended reading of the allegations “because they were too gruesome.”
I remain disgusted by the very existence of these films — and alarmed that there are obviously a segment of our population that wants to watch such depravity. The question could come down to how such a crime can be defined to avoid vagueness problems or even free speech issues.
Justice and Richards are facing seven federal charges, each of which carries a maximum five-year prison term.