June 13, 2010, New York, NY – Yesterday, the United States’ first prosecution under the little known Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was derailed when Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California dismissed the indictments of four animal rights activists. The Court ruled that the U.S. government could not proceed under the current indictment because the charges were so vague and general as to fail to provide defendants with notice as to what they were alleged to have done to violate the law.
“This decision is a huge victory for people everywhere who care about the First Amendment,” said Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) staff attorney and member of the defense team Rachel Meeropol. “When our government seeks to punish speech and protests as a crime, it cannot avoid First Amendment scrutiny by failing to provide details about what that defendant is alleged to have said or done.”
CCR, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and defense counsel filed the motion to dismiss the indictments on behalf of the activists, Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo, also known as the AETA 4, who were indicted for alleged conspiracy to commit “animal enterprise terrorism” as a result of their alleged participation in conduct including picketing, writing with chalk on the sidewalk, chanting, leafleting and the use of “the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers.”
The indictments alleged that each defendant engaged in a “course of conduct” involving some combination of threats, vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment or intimidation, but did not provide any specific detail. Judge Whyte agreed with defense counsel that such allegations are far too vague to satisfy due process, especially where the “behavior in question spans a wide spectrum from criminal conduct to constitutionally protected political protest.”
“These activists are peaceful individuals exercising their rights as guaranteed by the United States,” said attorney for the AETA 4 Bob Bloom. “This law is a blatant attempt to silence dissent and curb fundamental rights in the interests of industries that abuse our natural resources.”
“To characterize protest and speech as terrorist activities is ludicrous,” said CCR cooperating attorney Matthew Strugar. “It is no surprise that these indictments were vague and general—otherwise it would be obvious to the public and the courts that the prosecutors are casting peaceful leafleting and protest as terrorism.”
For more information on the AETA, visit CCR’s website or CCR’s legal case page.
The AETA4 are represented by CCR, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and individual defense attorneys Robert Jay Bloom, J. Tony Serra, Kali Saveria Grech, Omar C. Figueroa, James McNair Thompson, Emma Bradford, and Tomas Joseph Nolan.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.