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Supreme Court strikes down law banning dogfight videos

A case before the court dealt with tapes showing pit bulls attacking other animals and one another.

A case before the court dealt with tapes showing pit bulls attacking other animals and one another.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Justices say banning the videos is an unconstitutional violation of free speech
  • Court threw out conviction of Robert Stevens who sold videos
  • Stevens was charged in 2004 with selling depictions of animal cruelty

Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law designed to stop the sale and marketing of videos showing dogfights and other acts of animal cruelty, saying it is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

The 8-1 decision was a defeat for animal rights groups and congressional sponsors of the unusual legislation.

The specific case before the court dealt with tapes showing pit bulldogs attacking other animals and one another in staged confrontations.

The justices Tuesday concluded the scope and intent of the decade-old statute was overly broad.

"The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh its costs," said Chief Justice John Roberts. He concluded Congress had not sufficiently shown "depictions" of dogfighting were enough to justify a special category of exclusion from free speech protection.

The high court threw out the conviction of Robert Stevens, a Pittsville, Virginia, man who sold videos through his business, Dogs of Velvet and Steel. According to court records, undercover federal agents found he was advertising his tapes in Sporting Dog Journal, an underground magazine on illegal dogfighting.

"This is what I was hoping for," Stevens told CNN just after the ruling was announced. "I am not nor have I ever been a dog fighter or a promoter of dogfighting. I am a journalist and an author."

Among the products Stevens advertised was "Catch Dogs," featuring pit bulls chasing wild boars on organized hunts and a "gruesome depiction of a pit bull attacking the lower jaw of a domestic farm pig," according to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based appeals court that ruled on the case earlier.

Stevens was charged in 2004 with violating interstate commerce laws by selling depictions of animal cruelty. He was later sentenced to 37 months in prison, and promptly appealed. That sentence was put on hold pending resolution of this appeal.

He argued his sentence was longer than the 14 months given professional football player Michael Vick, who ran an illegal dogfighting ring.

It was the first prosecution in the United States to proceed to trial under the 1999 law.

The video marketer is not related to Justice John Paul Stevens, who turned 90 Tuesday. The court made no mention of the milestone as it held a two-hour public session.

Nearly every state and local jurisdiction have their own laws banning mistreatment of wild and domesticated animals, and usually handle prosecutions of animal cruelty.

Several media organizations had supported Stevens, worrying the federal law could implicate reports about deer hunting, and depictions of bullfighting in Ernest Hemingway novels.

Roberts agreed, saying, "We read [the federal law] to create a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth."

"Jurisdictions permit and encourage hunting, and there is an enormous national market for hunting-related depictions in which a living animal is intentionally killed," said Roberts. "An otherwise-lawful image of any of these practices, if sold or possessed for commercial gain within a state that happens to forbid the practice, falls within the prohibition of [the federal law]."

During oral arguments in October, the justices offered a number of wide-ranging hypotheticals over what the law could forbid, including: fox hunts, pate de foie gras from geese, cockfighting, bullfighting, shooting deer out of season, even Roman gladiator battles.

Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented in the case, and he focused on one of the most disturbing aspects raised in the appeal, the marketing of so-called "crush" videos, in which women — with their faces unseen — are shown stomping helpless animals such as rabbits to death with spiked-heel shoes or with their bare feet.

"The animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty," he said. The courts, he said, have "erred in second-guessing the legislative judgment about the importance of preventing cruelty to animals."

He predicted mores crush videos will soon flood the underground market, because the ruling has "the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos."

Roberts suggested a law specifically banning crush videos might be valid, since it would be narrowly tailored to a specific type of commercial enterprise.

Alito noted that would not help dogs forced to fight each other, where, he said, "the suffering lasts for years rather than minutes."

The government had argued a "compelling interest" in stopping people who would profit from dog attack tapes and similar depictions. Roberts dismissed suggestions by the Justice Department that only the most extreme acts of cruelty would be targeted.

"The First Amendment protects against the government," Roberts said. "We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the government promised to use it responsibly."

The Humane Society, other animal rights groups and 26 states backed the government.

If the law had been upheld, it would have been only the second time the Supreme Court had identified a form of speech undeserving of protection by the First Amendment. The justices in 1982 banned the distribution of child pornography.

This is the second time this year the high court has tossed out federal legislation on free speech grounds. The justices in January nullified parts of a sweeping campaign finance reform law, giving corporations, unions, and advocacy groups more power to bankroll federal elections.

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer – April 20, 2010 3:31 p.m. EDT

I am a free speech advocate and constitutionalist… but I don’t think that the Found Fathers approved of freedom of speech that directly could be connected to causing violence against living beings and creatures:  animals, pets, children, elderly etc.

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April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shelter Dogs Benefit From Volunteer’s Photographs

Seth Casteel, professional pet photographer

By Sue Manning for Associated Press

Maybe shelter dogs just need a Hollywood moment.

Seth Casteel, a professional pet photographer, volunteers a couple of hours each week at the West Los Angeles Animal Care Center, photographing dogs who need homes. The pictures replace the mug shot-like photos taken by shelter staff when the animals arrive.

“A lot of animals don’t understand what the deal is. They are coming off the truck, chained up, fearful, maybe fighting back. Some may not be healthy. That’s not the moment to take a photo,” said Casteel, 29.

Casteel photographs as many as 30 dogs a week at the shelter with the help of volunteers like Lola McKnight who fetch the dogs and play with them while he shoots. Those “personality shots” become the dogs’ first impressions on Web sites, newspaper ads, fliers, e-mails and social networks.

Shelter manager Capt. Louis Dedeaux said many visitors will come in carrying one of Casteel’s dog photos. There is no way to know how many of the dogs he’s photographed have been adopted or what else figured in a placement, but adoption numbers at the shelter are very high, Dedeaux said.

Casteel doesn’t have to take a lot of puppy pictures. “People want puppies so they go first,” Dedeaux said.

The dogs Casteel shoots are usually older and he works wonders with them, Dedeaux said. “He’ll get happy expressions, sometimes a perfect ‘take me home’ look,” he explained.

The photographer has saved more than one old dog’s life, Dedeaux said. It is a kill shelter so animals can’t stay indefinitely, he said. And Casteel said he hopes the idea spreads.

“We keep them as long as we can,” Dedeaux said, “but the longer a dog is here, the worse his chances are.”

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April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coke kingpin Douglas Spink busted for running bestiality farm in Washington State

Douglas Spink in Kuala Lumpur in 2003.  Spink is as an adrenaline junkie, listing rockclimbing and base-jumping off cliffs, radio towers and bridges among his hobbies.

Koon/AP

Douglas Spink in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. Spink is as an adrenaline junkie, listing rockclimbing and base-jumping off cliffs, radio towers and bridges among his hobbies.

SEATTLE  — A convicted cocaine smuggler has been arrested for running what authorities say appears to be a bestiality farm in Washington state in which visitors could engage in all sorts of twisted sex acts with animals.

Douglas Spink was arrested at his ramshackle, heavily wooded compound near the Canadian border along with a 51-year-old tourist from Great Britain who is accused of having sex with three dogs.

Dozens of dogs, horses and pet mice were seized, along with what investigators described as thousands of images of bestiality and apparent child pornography. The mice were euthanized, said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, whose office assisted federal agents in the case.

"This stuff is just truly bizarre," he said. "These were mice that had their tails cut off, they were smothered in Vaseline and they had string tied around them."

It wasn’t immediately clear whether other zoophilic tourists had been to Spink’s farm, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Roe said Friday, "I expect there may have been other people visiting the property."

Spink has not been charged with any bestiality or child porn charges at this point, only with violating the terms of his supervised release. Stephen Clarke of Peterborough, England, was arrested on state charges for allegedly abusing the dogs.

Spink’s lawyer, Howard Phillips, insisted there’s no evidence his client violated the terms of his release. "There’s no hard evidence he’s been engaging in bestiality at all," Phillips said.

Spink, who has a history of training and breeding dogs and horses, appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Friday and was ordered detained pending another hearing, set for April 30. He calls his operation Exitpoint Stallions Limitee and expounds at length on its Web site about his philosophy.

"Are we unconventional in our approach to stallion care? Absolutely," he writes.

He later adds: "We don’t wall off sexual energy in our stallions as something dangerous or inappropriate, but rather channel that energy towards positive, safe, appropriate paths. There’s a proper time and place for it, and we work towards those sorts of skills rather than fighting un-winnable fights against deeply-rooted instincts."

Spink, 39, made a fortune in Oregon buying and selling small companies in the 1990s and was known as an adrenaline junkie, listing rockclimbing and base-jumping off cliffs, radio towers and bridges among his hobbies.

But by 2002 his wealth had evaporated. He filed for bankruptcy as creditors sought millions from him, and he began running cocaine and marijuana across the border for a local drug kingpin.

Spink was arrested in 2005 after investigators pulled him over with a load of nearly 375 pounds (170 kilograms) of cocaine, valued at $34 million. He was given a lenient, three-year sentence because of his extensive cooperation with investigators.

Since then, he has been on a five-year term of supervised release, during which time he must abide by all state, local and federal laws.

Under Washington law, it’s illegal to assist others in engaging in bestiality — and breaking any state law would be a violation of Spink’s release, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Authorities searched his farm Wednesday after prosecutors received a tip from a public defender’s office in Tennessee. The office reported that Spink had been calling them incessantly about a jailed defendant in a bestiality case in Tennessee.

That man, James Michael Tait, had previously admitted filming a man having sex with a horse in Washington state in 2005. The man Tait filmed died of internal injuries suffered during the incident. He received a minor sentence in the case because Washington had relatively weak bestiality laws at the time.

It’s not immediately clear why Spink was calling Tennessee about the Tait case.

When agents searched Spink’s home, they found a video of a man sexually abusing dogs — and that man, Clarke, was still on the property, wearing the same clothes as in the video, Elfo said. He was charged with animal cruelty and made an initial appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court on Thursday.

Clarke was given a court-appointed defense lawyer for that appearance only and otherwise does not yet have an attorney.

Roe said Friday that Clarke had admitted his involvement to investigators.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Monday, April 19th 2010, 9:49 AM – NYDailyNews.com

Related:  Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Banning Dogfight Videos

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April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Southfield Implements Limit On Cats – Over Reaction

POSTED: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UPDATED: 6:04 pm EDT April 20, 2010

Cat

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — The Southfield City Council voted Monday to amend an ordinance, limiting the number of cats in the city to three per household. The city already limits the number of dogs per household.

Punishment for those in violation of the new ordinance has yet to be determined.

The changes were made after a woman living on Civic Center Drive was discovered living with 30 cats in her home. Southfield police took the animals from the home.

"We had to bath them. We had to feed them. A lot of them were really thin, they were frightened," said Gail Montgomery, a worker at the animal shelter that helped nurse the cats back to health.

Source:  ClickOnDetroit.com

This over-reaction is typical of our culture.  30 cats is ridiculous and crazy.  3 cats is not enough for many, especially if you foster, and too restrictive.  America has become a country that cannot deal with unusual situations directly.  We immediately legislate to handle every situation instead of dealing with problems directly on a case by case basis or speaking up before there is a problem… or to the perpetrator(s) directly.  4 cats is not too many… for some people with a big house, 5 or 6 aren’t too many.  And with the over-population at shelters rescuing just one more pet is a blessing for all.  And volunteering to be a foster home for cats or dogs saves many of them until they can find their forever home.

I hope that animal groups or concerned individuals stand up in Southfield, Michigan and get this legislation amended!!  This will just add to the death count.  We need to move to “No Kill Shelters” everywhere and start using common sense instead of Big Brother over-reactive legislation to deal with problems and challenges!!

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April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments