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Dissent Victory for Animal Rights Activists

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Message Bill Quigley

Dissent Victory for Animal Rights Activists

By Bill Quigley and Rachel Meeropol. Bill and Rachel are human rights attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Police reports state that on October 21, 2007 a group of about twenty people trespassed onto the front lawn of the home of a Berkeley professor involved in bio-medical research on animals. According to the US government, some of the protestors had bandanas covering the lower half of their faces and they made "a lot of noise, chanting animal rights slogans" like "1,2,3,4, open up the cage door; 5,6,7,8, smash the locks and liberate, 9,10,11,12, vivisectors go to hell."

A year and a half later, four young activists were indicted in California federal court under the little known and rarely used "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" (AETA) for their alleged involvement in this and others pickets.

The federal criminal indictment charged Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo (now the AETA 4) with one count of "animal enterprise terrorism," and one count of conspiracy. They each face ten years in prison if convicted.

Strangely, the criminal indictment against them doesn't actually say anything about their chants or leaflets, or what else they are supposed to have done to violate the law.

There is some good news here. On July 12, 2010 a federal judge threw out that indictment, explaining that is was so general and vague it failed to provide the defendants with notice of what criminal act they are accused of committing, a constitutional requirement.

In his order, Judge Ronald M. Whyte described the indictment as "quite generic." For "an indictment to fulfill its constitutional purposes," he explained, "it must allege facts that sufficiently inform each defendant of what it is he or she is alleged to have done that constitutes a crime. This is particularly important where the species of behavior in question spans a wide spectrum from criminal conduct to constitutionally protected political protest." According to the judge's ruling, the government can re-indict these activists if they make the charges much more specific.

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Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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