U.S. v. SHAC 7 Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

Lawyers filed an amicus brief, on behalf of CCR and the First Amendment Lawyers Association, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant certiorari and arguing that the activists' prosecution violated the First Amendment.  On March 7, 2011 the Supreme Court denied cert.

Date Filed: 

November 16, 2010

Case Description 

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was an international, grassroots animal rights campaign to close Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), Europe's largest contract animal-testing laboratory.  Huntingdon tests products like household cleaners, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and food additives on around 75,000 animals every year, from rats to wild-caught baboons.  By targeting the pillars of support for the lab (e.g. its investors, customers, stockbrokers, etc.), pressuring these companies to cut their tie with HLS, and holding residential pickets in the neighborhoods of executives of these companies and of HLS, the SHAC campaign pushed Huntingdon to the bring of bankruptcy mulitple times.

The main organizing tool of U.S. arm of the campaign was the SHAC-USA website, which advocated and reported on both legal and illegal protests againt the lab.  SHAC expressed ideological support for any protest tactic that did not harm a human or non-human animal.

In 2004, six SHAC-USA activists and the organization itself (the SHAC 7) were indicted on federal "animal enterprise terrorism" charges, for allegedly conspiring under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA).  None of the defendants were accused of personally engaging in any independent illegal act--no assault, no vandalism, no threatening communications.  All of the activity alleged against the defendants is protected by the First Amendment: publishing a website, advocating lawful and unlawful protest activity, organizing and attending protests, contacting companies by phone and mail, etc.  All defendants were convicted and sentenced to four to six years in federal prison. 

CCR wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the defendants in their appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the convictions as an incitement prosecution that flies in the face of well-established free speech doctrine. The Third Circuit upheld the convictions, ruling 2-1. The Panel acknowledged that much of Appellants’ speech and advocacy was protected by the First Amendment, but impermissibly allowed the mere presence of unlawful activity committed by anonymous individuals in the course of the campaign, coupled with defendants' ideological support for unlawful protest, to constitute a criminal conspiracy.  This is highly problematic under the First Amendment.

Case Timeline

March 7, 2011

Supreme Court denies cert

March 7, 2011

Supreme Court denies cert

November 9, 2010
CCR files an amicus brief in support of defendants' petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court
November 9, 2010
CCR files an amicus brief in support of defendants' petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court
June 13, 2010

Petition for rehearing en banc is denied; there is no written decision

June 13, 2010

Petition for rehearing en banc is denied; there is no written decision

December 4, 2009
CCR files an amicus brief for rehearing en banc
December 4, 2009
CCR files an amicus brief for rehearing en banc
October 14, 2009
Court of Appeals affirms the convictions of the defendants
October 14, 2009
Court of Appeals affirms the convictions of the defendants
October 29, 2007
CCR files an amicus brief on behalf of CCR, the National Lawyers Guild, and First Amendment Lawyers Association in support of the defendants
October 29, 2007
CCR files an amicus brief on behalf of CCR, the National Lawyers Guild, and First Amendment Lawyers Association in support of the defendants

The amicus brief argues that the SHAC 7 convictions violate the First Amendment.