HOUSTON, Texas – A Houston couple will, once again, face federal trial for making and distributing “animal crush videos” depicting the torture and killing of animals after the Supreme Court of the United States declined to accept appellate review. Federal District Court Judge Sim Lake previously dismissed the charges against Ashley Nichole Richards and Brent Justice — calling the videos protected free speech.
Richards and Justice were the first people to be charged under the federal Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010, according to an article by Mike Glenn in the Houston Chronicle. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the charges in June of 2014 but the couple appealed their ruling to the Supreme Court which refused to hear their case.
The act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, defines the crime as follows:
(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.
(1) Creation of animal crush videos: It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly create an animal crush video, if—
(A) the person intends or has reason to know that the animal crush video will be distributed in, or using a means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce; or
(B) the animal crush video is distributed in, or using a means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce.
(2) Distribution of animal crush videos: It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sell, market, advertise, exchange, or distribute an animal crush video in, or using a means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce.
The Court of Appeals made note that the First Amendment does allow for some restrictions on free speech. It included obscenity as an example. The Court ruled the law is constitutional in this application because it focuses on the “secondary effects” of the video and not the actual content.
“The other element that occurs in animal crush videos and which warrants a higher punishment than simple obscenity is that it involved the intentional torture or pain to a living animal. Congress finds this combination deplorable and worthy of special punishment,” Judge Stephen Higginson wrote for the three-judge panel (ruling attached below).
Richards has already been convicted in a Texas state district court where she pleaded guilty to three counts of animal cruelty. She was sentenced in May, 2014, to ten years in prison.
The couple are accused of making and distributing at least eight videos according to the federal indictment (attached below). The videos show puppies, chickens and kittens being tortured and killed. The videos were designed to satisfy the sexual urges of the viewers.
If convicted, the couple could face up to seven years in federal prison, on each count. Additional, a fine of up to $250,000 could be assessed on each count plus an additional three years of supervised release following the completion of their prison terms.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.