Open Season: Do Laws Against Animal Crushing Videos Violate Free Speech?

Ashley Nicole Richards, who filmed herself torturing and killing kittens, puppies, cats and dogs, was the first person brought up on revised federal crush-video charges -- which backfired magnificently.

When the case hopped from state to federal court, folks at the Animal Beta Project were pleasantly surprised. They assumed the state would have first crack, but no matter — from their perspective, the federal case was just as much a no-brainer. After all, according to Hollifield, Richards had already admitted to being in the videos; Justice was identified as being the cameraman in at least one video, thanks to a birthmark on his arm; e-mails stored on the couple's computers showed their business transactions; and, not least of all, there were the videos themselves.

"We were so surprised how quickly the law enforcement — Houston PD and...the DA's Office — took this and ran with it," ABP spokesman John Green told the Press. "And we were like, 'Wow, why can't every case be like this?'"

Then came Judge Lake's ruling.

A federal judge in Houston ruled that the statute prohibiting crush videos...
Courtesy of Animal Beta Project
A federal judge in Houston ruled that the statute prohibiting crush videos...
...featuring Ashley Nicole Richards, is unconstitutional.
ourtesy of Animal Beta Project
...featuring Ashley Nicole Richards, is unconstitutional.

In tossing out the five crush-law counts against Justice and Richards, Lake wrote that the obscenity requirement in the statute really just amounted to Congress trying to sneak a new definition of obscenity in through the back door.

Courts have ruled that, in order for there to be an obscenity finding, material must "portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way." But, Lake wrote, "the acts depicted in animal crush videos may be 'patently offensive' under community standards, but under no set of community standards does violence toward animals constitute 'sexual conduct.'"

Likewise, Lake shot down prosecutors' argument that the statute was valid because it prohibited speech under a concept called "speech integral to criminal conduct." This exception to First Amendment rights was carved out in a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a New York law banning the sale or distribution of child pornography.

The court ruled, "The most expeditious, if not the only practical method of law enforcement, may be to dry up the market for this material by imposing severe criminal penalties on persons selling, advertising or otherwise promoting the product."

Because of the particular importance of protecting children from abuse, the Supreme Court has refused to extend the "dry up the market" rationale to other areas, and Lake followed suit.

"The court does not view the protection of animals from pain or death as a government objective equivalent to the protection of children from abuse," he wrote.

In describing the statute, Lake opined that "Congress has written a law to proscribe speech that seems to straddle a line between obscenity and speech integral to criminal conduct, but cannot be fairly categorized as either one."

For members of the Animal Beta Project, the ruling was a kick in the gut.

An ABP member who uses the pseudonym Alex Delarge and whose eye for detail helped the group identify Richards in the first place tells the Press, "All of us just went, 'How can this happen?' I'm shaking as I talk about it, because I've seen some things doing this job for a couple of years now...We all say that that case stands out as far and away the worst thing I think we'll ever see, really."

But Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor and an expert on First Amendment issues, says Lake's decision was firmly on point.

"Crush videos aren't really obscenity — that's not what they are," Stone tells the Press. "They don't depict sexual conduct in any way in which normally we would recognize that."

And, he adds, any comparison to the Supreme Court's 1982 child pornography ruling is only "superficially analogous."

"The truth is that we are in fact cruel to animals constantly in our society and we don't take that interest very seriously," Stone says. "We don't take it seriously when we're hungry. We don't take it seriously because we like to hunt animals just for the fun of it, and all of a sudden, we take it seriously when people want to make movies."

Conversely, he says, Richards and Justice could not have successfully mounted a First Amendment defense against state animal cruelty charges.

"I don't know why [the DA's Office] didn't pursue the case," he says. "You can certainly pursue both of them. I can't imagine why the state officials dropped it."

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Lovvorn, a lawyer with the Humane Society of the United States who helped craft the revised crush statute, disagrees with Lake's ruling.

"If this material doesn't fit the court's view of obscene or sufficiently sexual in nature to be obscene, then you escort the defendant out of the courtroom; you don't strike down the statute," he says. "It's a failure of the case rather than the statute."

Having successfully gotten rid of the bulk of the charges against their clients, Justice's and Richards's attorneys have asked for a hearing to release the couple from custody while they await trial.

The hearing is set for May 16.
_____________________

Although Richards had the pending criminal charge out of Waco at the time of her arrest in Houston, she did have some positive things going on.

On August 10, 2012, less than a week before her arrest, she posted the good news on Facebook: She had received a certificate from a local advocacy group that "engages the historically disengaged in underserved neighborhoods." The document acknowledges Richards's completion of an eight-week leadership training course that would ostensibly help her "continue to organize and build strong communities for social change and equality."

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571 comments
cwoarmy2
cwoarmy2

How about the federal judge that opened up this can of worms to begin with, I wonder if Judge Sim Lake is one of their customers?  Protect his right to be a fucking idiot.  Jack ass judge he should be fired immediately for being an idiot.

cwoarmy2
cwoarmy2

This fucking crazy bit@h killed animals for fun and sexual pleasure, does that violate free speech?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Those poor little animals that this crazy, sick bitch killed do not have the capability to say "Hey crazy bitch what are you doing?  I don't like that meat cleaver in my leg or my fucking head cut off" so it is our job to protect those that cannot protect themselves; animals, children, and the elderly.  I hope that this bitch and her handler (that man) get what is coming to them in prison I hope to God that the inmates at the prison they are in get them and torture them just a little every single day of their sentences.  There is indeed a very special place waiting for them when they meet their maker.

cldmercer
cldmercer

she needs to be dying a slow death

TheDHoffryn
TheDHoffryn

Freedom of speech is me saying "50% Americans are fucked up beyond belief and need to be neutered and spayed!", but causing harm to a creature and video taping it is disgusting and immoral, i thought japan was fucked up with all its schoolgirl rape videos that come out, and even some of their hentai of schoolgirls getting raped, but the fact that people make videos like this for other sexual enjoyment and call it freedom of speech is worse than any sort of rape video!


tell you want, offer them the chance to record the ultimate crush video, give them all their tools they used on the cat, and throw them into a lions cage and say "Have at it!"

thirdwolff
thirdwolff

This person, these people and the people that get there rocks off are extremely ill in body, mind, spirit and soul. This bitch had a near death experience with a deer that "sacrificed it's life when it ran into her car, and did no damage to her car or herself." The deer died, and Richards didn't. She says she is now closer to God, Yahweh. Good for you. You killed the deer, it didn't sacrifice itself for you or anyone. 

Go kill yourself and videotape it.I believe that is legal too, and plenty of people want to watch that for free.

tailzz
tailzz

Freedom of speech pertains solely to speaking.  This disgusting gutter B***H and the neanderthal who shacks up with her are whining about freedom of EXPRESSION.  This woman is nowhere NEAR being a Christian as she has deluded herself into believing.  She and he are scum of the worst magnitude.


because, honestly, if we go by what that poor excuse of a judge says, then, TECHNICALLY I can beat the s**t out of these two and expect to walk away...BECAUSE I WAS EXPRESSING MYSELF FREELY!

lmgradias
lmgradias

Ok....am I stupid or something?  Because I cannot grasp the idea of torturing and killing an innocent animal for any reason, let alone for a freak job's sex video, as freedom of speech!  I'm speechless!!!   What happened to all the animal abuse laws?  Never mind overbroad...how about plain old human decency??  Doesn't that exist in this country anymore???

nickcat
nickcat

Is that sick bitch wearing a cross around her neck? Dear God. I am living on planet IDIOT.

raynanoire
raynanoire

Free speech, really? This is overused excuse for sick individuals to do inhumane things. Nope, it's not free speech at all. 

Concerned28
Concerned28

To write about "real crimes" like this in a newspaper or a news content is done for the purpose of informing the public because these inhumane acts are "never normal" , and their perpetrators will always be a threat to the society. That is free speech. But the crimes themselves, perpetrated for the sheer sick pleasure of psychopaths everywhere (not to teach a moral like in novels or inform like in journalism), thus condoning these evil crimes, is never a part of free speech. Freedom always comes with a RESPONSIBILITY, and if it is used to hurt, kill, malign others, therefore violating their freedom to live or stay safe, then it is a definite CRIME! These psychos cry foul saying that their Freedom of speech is violated? How about their suppression of the freedom of these lovely creatures to live happy, healthy lives? 

amharlow
amharlow

WOW I CAN'T WAIT TILL THE APOCALYPSE PLEASE LET US ALL BE DEAD SOON, SOON AS POSSIBLE

kurliak
kurliak

This is what we get when "justices" who aren't interested in justice are appointed. The statute is "overbroad," while the First Amendment, which is far broader, isn't? They worship A1 absolutely, because it promotes the political aims of those who flaunt it.

We need to rise up against these malcreants, in the interest of justice.

wondergirl12
wondergirl12

She needs serious help. She should be kept locked up. How can this be "freedom of spech"? What a sick sick person. It made me cry reading this. She deserves to die for abusing these innocent animals

wondergirl12
wondergirl12

That cruel sly cow. How dare she do such cruel things to that beautiful creature. She deserves to spend her whole life in prison, the bitch. Thinking about that woman makes me sick.

wondergirl12
wondergirl12

That little sly cruel bitch. She should be kept in prison until she dies. How dare she treat that beautiful creature like that. It makes me sick to think about her.

jodymeadows
jodymeadows

I hope she is dead now, if not soon!

HPLovecraft
HPLovecraft

Um, let's slice this bitch to ribbons ans see how she likes it.

NorthCountyDogTrain
NorthCountyDogTrain

How any law at all can protect this demented twisted poor excuse for human flesh is beyond me. This woman belongs in a mental institution for the rest of her days. Torture should never be protected by 'freedom of speech'. This is torture pure and simple and should be prosecuted as such. This woman is beyond sick, she has no empathy at all and no respect for life. Please, get this 'person' off our streets.

rebecca471
rebecca471

How in the hell anyone can claim FREEDOM OF SPEECH to justify these atrocious acts of cruelty and DEPRAVITY is beyond me. This is NOT freedom of anything; surely not for the animals who are being tortured and not for any normal, feeling human who would happen across such depravity. Sure am glad I DON'T live in Texas. . . .  what an embarrassment that would be to have to live with.

danrbas
danrbas

This damn judge should go to jail along with these 2 A$$holes! Boy, I really have a different opinion of TX now!!!

Evelyn
Evelyn

I no longer recognize this pit of a country I live in.  Everything that is sick, twisted and demented is now protected, but normal things like carrying a gun for personal protection or even letting your grass get too high is against the law, and you could be arrested.  I think we're too far gone for anything to change, and the reason is because of people like this demented "judge" who should never have been allowed to become a lawyer much less a judge.  What exactly is he capable of judging?  He has the morals of an alley cat or worse.

LoveAnimals
LoveAnimals

Ok so if I kill infants for crush videos is that my freedom of speech? Hell, lets make killing freedom of speech! Sick! Maybe as americans we have too much freedom. This sicko needs to be in jail or get some mental help. What happens when she turns to people? Oh then you will get off your ass & do something but animals who cares. Killing & torture is not freedom of speech if that were the case I know some people I would like to torture. But I don't you know why cuz no one has any right, freedom or otherwise to take a life!!!!!! These laws need to be changed! Sick twisted b*tch!

LoveAnimals
LoveAnimals

Ok so if I kill infants for crush videos is that my freedom of speech? Hell, lets make killing freedom of speech! Sick! Maybe as americans we have too much freedom. This sicko needs to be in jail or get some mental help. What happens when she turns to people? Oh then you will get off your ass & do something but animals who cares. Killing & torture is not freedom of speech if that were the case I know some people I would like to torture. But I don't you know why cuz no one has any right, freedom or otherwise to take a life!!!!!! These laws need to be changed! Sick twisted b*tch!

kheops420
kheops420

I would kill these 2 bastards anyday, motherfuckers

KMMV
KMMV

21 years old and doing this to animals.  And when she's 30 she will either be up on charge for harming someone during sex, or worse, murder charges.  Her ass needs to be in jail where others can "enjoy" her assets.

KMMV
KMMV

21 years old and doing this to animals.  And when she's 30 she will either be up on charge for harming someone during sex, or worse, murder charges.  Her ass needs to be in jail where others can "enjoy" her assets.

desisfresh
desisfresh

I don't understand how someone could possibly do anything like this....like what the FUCK WHY? I couldn't even read half of this article. This makes me so fucking sick. What is she getting out of this? I hope she rots in jail. I'm going to cuddle my dog extra tight tonight.

catherine
catherine

Great work  on this article, Craig.  This made me absolutely sick to my stomach (and rightfully).  Animal abusers are almost the worst type of people, right up there with child abusers.  Hurting something completely innocent and defenseless is the worst type of crime.  I hate both of them, but I also hate everyone who participated with her by sending the poor animals to their deaths for some stupid fleeting sexual pleasure.  Honestly people just suck sometimes.

CookiesNoms
CookiesNoms

I hate animal cruelty and that means all of it (factory farms, pupmills ect.).  This girl needs some help and we can only hope she does not have kids.

 Ignorance is bliss. : / 

  The suffering of one for another gain is how our society works, at least thats how they want it to work.  We need change and it starts with having compassion for all animals and people.  You can not just turn your head to the side when it is a cow being beat to death instead of a cat because that cow is just going to be a "burger".   And no im not a member of Peta, I just dont see why their life is any less important than mine.

bklunceford
bklunceford

There's gonna be a real Shit Storm when people get fed up with these POS's getting away with kind of torture to animals, and start taking things into their own hands.

pamfrancis
pamfrancis

I don't believe killing the innocent has anything to do with free speech.

If people want to be sickos, let them do it without killing the harmless ....Please !

But then they ARE sickos. Someone should make a video of them being "crushed"

pamfrancis
pamfrancis

I don't believe killing the innocent has anything to o with free speech. If people want to be sickos, let them do it without killing the harmless ....Please !

pamfrancis
pamfrancis

I don't believe killing the innocent has anything to o with free speech. If people want to be sickos, let them do it without killing the harmless ....Please !

madbob
madbob

I'm confused. Why is the focus on the video, and not on the actions captured on the video? Sure the video may be protected speech, but that doesn't mean that the torture and mutilation of the animals is protected. So far as I am concerned the video is only evidence of the animal cruelty. Are the animal cruelty charges independent of the "crush video" charges?

MattMinerXVX
MattMinerXVX

It's absolutely abhorrent that this is legal, much less that anybody reading this article is actually defending these indefensible actions.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@raynanoire ... do pay attention to the issues at hand --


1) the publishing / distributing of the MOVIE itself is FREE SPEECH, and legal.


2) the mutilation and torture of the animals in the movie is NOT free speech, and not legal.


Any questions?


MikeT
MikeT

@rebecca471 The problem is not that anyone thinks that this sort of behavior is freedom of speech.  The problem is that the law they wrote is so broad as to be unconstitutional because it violates the 1st Amendment.  The judge isn't ruling that the acts commited are protected speech, the judge is ruling that the law is unconstitutional, which means the charges are voided.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@rebecca471= another Reading Comprehension FAIL!

The cruelty to the animal is, was, and will be a Crime. Nothing has changed.

The VIDEO of the crime is, in and of itself, Free Speech.

Same as WRITING a BOOK about one's Criminal Activities is protected Free Speech, but the crimes themselves are not.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@LoveAnimals "Ok so if I kill infants for crush videos ..."

You spend much time contemplating that?

craig.malisow
craig.malisow

@madbob The federal charges were under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which is the problem. Those charges are not the same as animal cruelty charges.

rebecca471
rebecca471

@DonkeyHotay @Evelyn  Evelyn doesn't hate America, it's the governing body of the State of Texas and any one (judge included) that would find the making and distribution for these videos legal. I feel your pain, Evelyn as your disgust.  
Next we'll be hearing this judge thinks it's perfectly legal to abuse a child or torture a child to death and write about it, or worse tape it to show other how it is done. It is definitely pathetic the state of morals this country has gotten itself to.


madbob
madbob

@craig.malisow @madbob Thanks Craig. I re-read the article more carefully and see that the animal cruelty charges are in fact being re-filed against Richards and Justice. I have a hard time seeing how they beat that wrap, seeing as they filmed and distributed the acts. Hopefully justice prevails.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@rebecca471 "it's perfectly legal to abuse a child or torture a child to death and write about it,"

It IS legal to WRITE about torturing a child to death. It's NOT legal to torture a child to death.

What part don't you comprehend?


katybugg68
katybugg68

@DonkeyHotay @madbob We no longer have a US Constitution. Obama and others in his administrations have stated numerous times that the US Constitution is out dated and a worthless piece of paper.

 
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