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Ban on animal torture videos upheld

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A federal appeals court has upheld a U.S. law banning “crush” videos that graphically depict the abuse and killing of animals.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, reinstated the four-year-old prohibition on June 13, reversing a lower federal court's ruling in Texas last year that the ban violated the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections.

The appeals court said it concluded that “Congress has a significant interest in preventing the secondary effects of animal crush videos, which promote and require violence and criminal activity,” and that the ban is justified because crush videos contain “wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.”

The defendants in the case are Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice, both of Houston, who were indicted for allegedly creating and distributing eight videos involving kittens, puppies and chickens being tortured and killed.

“In these videos, Richards is the person ‘performing,’ while Justice is the person behind the camera,” the appeals court wrote in its 14-page opinion. “Generally, the videos portray Richards binding animals (a kitten, a puppy and a rooster), sticking the heels of her shoes into them, chopping off their limbs with a cleaver, removing their innards, ripping off their heads and urinating on them.”

Proponents of the video ban welcomed the appeals court decision. The “landmark” ruling “acknowledges Congress’s compelling interest in combating the egregious animal cruelty inherent in animal crush videos,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund said. Without the ban, “countless animals could be subjected to intentional torture for sick entertainment and profit,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president of animal protection litigation at the Humane Society of the United States.

But the legal battle may not be over, as the defendants have until mid-September to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. Stopcrush.org, another supporter of the video ban, urged the nation’s highest court to decline to hear the case. Attorneys for Richards and Justice had no immediate comment.

Regardless of the outcome, the duo face significant time behind bars. Richards pled guilty to three counts of animal cruelty in a Harris County, Texas, district court and was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison. Justice pled not guilty to one count and awaits a July 17 county court date.

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