April 20th, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Hunting Videos Are Protected by First Amendment

U.S. Supreme CourtThe United States Supreme Court today struck down a federal law banning depictions of “animal cruelty” on the basis that the law violated the Free Speech protections of the First Amendment. In its 8-1 ruling in United States v. Stevens, the High Court upheld a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision voiding the conviction of Robert Stevens for violating 18 U.S.C. 48, which prohibits depiction of animal cruelty.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion was authored by Chief Justice Roberts, who declared that that the law was overbroad, and could potentially be used to ban TV shows about hunting, as well as educational videos. At issue was a 1999 federal law that makes it a crime to create, sell or possess videos and other depictions of cruelty to animals. The case arose over the conviction of Robert Stevens, who received a three-year prison sentence from a Western Pennsylvania court for selling videos that included scenes of hunting with dogs. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on constitutional grounds, accepting Stevens’ argument that his videos were protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld the Third Circuit’s decision. Had the Third Circuit’s decision been overturned, all images of legal hunting and fishing could have been deemed illegal under the law.

The Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) took a lead role in bringing journalists and outdoor industry organizations together in support of the First Amendment argument presented before the Court by Robert Stevens’ attorney Patricia Millett. “POMA is grateful to the Court for this important decision,” said Laurie Lee Dovey, POMA executive director. “The First Amendment rights of traditional outdoor sports journalists, those who cover legal hunting and fishing and promote the enjoyment of these American heritage sports, are protected. The impact of this decision on POMA members, all journalists, and the outdoor industry can not be overstated.” The ruling in U.S. v. Stevens was a setback for animal rights groups and the Obama Adminstration’s lawyers, who asked the Supreme Court to overrule the Third Circuit and send Robert Stevens to prison.

CLICK HERE for full text of Decision in U.S. v. Stevens

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