Jail-Term Appeal for Animal Activist in California Supported by Denver Law School Unit

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In a significant legal battle, Wayne Hsiung, a prominent California animal activist and lawyer, is gearing up for his appeal of a felony conviction and a 90-day jail term. Despite being an attorney himself, Hsiung has chosen not to represent himself but instead enlisted the support of attorneys from the University of Denver Law School’s Animal Activist Legal Defense Project.

Hsiung, co-founder of the activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), found himself at the center of controversy following a conviction on felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass charges. This verdict, delivered after an intense 8-week trial and six days of jury deliberation, led to a 90-day jail sentence and 24 months of probation for Hsiung.

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project, based at the University of Denver Law School, is renowned for its successful efforts in challenging state laws that sought to criminalize private undercover investigations of animal abuse. Their victories in federal courts resulted in the unconstitutional status of numerous such laws.

Representing Hsiung on appeal is Chris Carraway, a staff attorney with the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project. Carraway argues that Hsiung’s trial was marred by “substantial prejudicial and reversible error.” Specifically, he highlights that the jury was denied crucial information about the extent of animal cruelty at the targeted companies and the activists’ efforts to seek law enforcement intervention. According to Carraway, this restriction hindered Hsiung’s ability to explain the intent behind his actions, a vital element in the alleged crimes.

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Moreover, Carraway points out that Judge Passaglia prohibited Hsiung from presenting a necessity defense, despite the potential applicability of such a defense to animal rescue under California law. The legal team remains optimistic about a favorable outcome on appeal.

Carraway further notes that trial participants were subjected to unconstitutional gag orders from the trial’s onset, and press access was significantly limited, raising concerns about the transparency of the proceedings.

At the heart of Hsiung’s defense is California’s “Right to Rescue Act,” which permits individuals to enter a vehicle to rescue an animal facing potential suffering, disability, or death. DxE’s actions, including Hsiung’s defense, aim to expand this right beyond vehicles to include rescues from commercial industrial facilities.

Hsiung’s legal troubles originated from open rescues conducted at Sonoma County farms, specifically Sunrise Farms, a major egg producer, and Reichardt Duck Farm, California’s largest duck farm. Activists from DxE rescued 37 chickens and 32 ducks, providing them with veterinary care and relocating them to sanctuaries. Despite the farms promoting themselves as “humane,” DxE alleged systemic violations of animal cruelty laws.

Following Hsiung’s sentencing in November, three more activists faced arrest for multiple felonies and misdemeanors while attempting to report evidence of unlawful animal cruelty at Sonoma County farms.

Hsiung emphasizes that while California boasts the strongest animal welfare law in the country, billions of animals continue to suffer due to the lack of enforcement of animal cruelty laws. He advocates for a comprehensive approach to ensure the protection of all animals from suffering, asserting their right to be safe, happy, and free.

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law plays a crucial role in empowering and defending animal advocates. Through activist defense, affirmative litigation, and the training of law students in animal law, the project aims to contribute to the transformation of the field and ensure the well-being of animals.

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