Bill would limit the legal options of animal rights activists if they are charged with theft for removing injured or diseased livestock

A bill currently before the Utah Legislature would limit the scope of legal defenses available to individuals accused of theft for removing injured or diseased livestock from farms and ranches.

As introduced by Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, HB114 would change state law to prevent defendants accused of theft from defending themselves if they removed livestock because the animals were sick, injured or liability for the owner. The bill would only apply to livestock, not dogs or other pets.

Albrecht’s bill, which passed by a 65-4 vote last Friday, is a direct response to a Washington County jury’s unanimous decision in the 5th Circuit Court of St. George in October to clear two animal rights activists of all charges against them two sick piglets from Circle Four Farms in 2017.

Wayne Hsiung and co-defendant Paul Picklesimer, members of San Francisco-based Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), were part of a group of five activists accused of breaking into Circle Four Farms in Milford and stealing two pigs.

Three of the five accepted pleas, but Hsiung and Picklesimer went to court and faced counts of theft and burglary that could have landed them in prison for five and a half years. In their not-guilty verdict, members of the jury ruled that the two men had taken nothing of value, one of the elements prosecutors had to prove in order for the theft and burglary charges to stand.

Hsiung admitted entering the farm with cameraman Picklesimer, who was filming to document abuses they might find among the pigs. He further admitted taking the two piglets, but argued that it was not theft as the animals were too ailing to represent anything of value to their company owner.

Albrecht, who drafted the bill at the behest of Beaver County commissioners and sponsored it in the House of Representatives, has called DxE’s actions at Smithfield Farms a publicity stunt and said the jury had reached the wrong verdict.

“I’m very concerned about the precedent this is setting for all of rural Utah and farming,” he said. “I know [activists] I don’t like places like Smithfield Foods where they raise a lot of cattle. But this sets a precedent that activists can come to any farm or ranch and search their bar, pens or sheds for sick animals to further their cause. So we are just trying to strengthen the existing statute.”

Lynn Carlson, a St. George civil engineer who served on the jury at the trial, argues otherwise. He calls the bill an affront to the jury, who reviewed all the evidence at trial and fairly ruled in favor of the defendants.

“These guys didn’t take anything of value. The prosecution did a poor job of trying to get their point across during the trial,” he said. “And now they’re introducing this bill because they didn’t get the verdict they wanted.”

Instead of trying to get a burglary and theft conviction to make an example of the activists, Carlson added, prosecutors should have settled for trespassing, a lesser offense. In an op-ed Wednesday in The Salt Lake Tribune, Carlson claimed that by expediting the prosecution of HB114, lawmakers would usurp the “appropriate role of a jury” in the nation’s justice system.

“Juries should be well informed and presented with all relevant facts for evaluation. Defendants should have the right to adequately defend their alleged crimes,” he wrote. “This legislation is a reckless and impulsive response by politicians who are clearly rewriting the law to appease Smithfield and the powerful Utah farming lobby.”

Almira Tanner, the lead organizer of DxE, also blasted HB114.

“This anti-rescue law goes against the will of Utah residents, as evidenced by the unanimous acquittal by a Utah jury last October of two animal rights activists who rescued sick and injured piglets from a Smithfield factory farm,” she said in a prepared statement Explanation. “Rather than taking action to end animal cruelty at these facilities, lawmakers have made incredibly clear that they care far more about protecting corporate profits and enabling animal abuse than about protecting the vulnerable and those who try to abuse them.” to help.”

Tanner’s statement was echoed by Hsiung, co-founder of DxE, who now serves as an advisor to the organization.

“I’ve spoken to a number of lawyers and criminal law scholars about the law, all of whom have concluded that this is a rather unfortunate example of corporate influence in our legal system,” he said. “Smithfield Foods is a multi-billion dollar company [with] … its parent company based in China. It was founded by one of China’s largest billionaires. You wouldn’t believe a company like this would be able to rewrite the criminal laws of our country, but that’s what’s happening.”

Hsiung said that according to prosecutors’ own estimates, the piglets were worth about $40 apiece, much less than the cost of treating the animals, assuming farm officials were inclined to do so.

“The jury concluded that the prosecution failed to meet their burden of proof and that this was not a crime – certainly not a crime to justify many years of incredibly zealous use of taxpayers’ money in law enforcement,” he added.

Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen, the prosecutor in the case, admitted he probably made a mistake in not charging Hsiung and Picklesimer with trespassing, but added that he had made no mistake in charging the couple with charged with burglary and theft.

“It is a crime to enter an apartment and steal property. It’s a burglary,’ he said. “It’s a crime to take something that doesn’t belong to you. This is theft.”

Christiansen said he was puzzled by the jury’s finding that Hsiung did not take anything of value. He said due to the cost of raising and feeding livestock, each animal is not initially an asset to a farmer or rancher until it is brought to market.

“The purpose of this bill is to make it clear that it doesn’t matter whether the animal is liable to the owner,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s sick or injured. It is still the property of the owner.”

HB114 is currently on the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. Albrecht expressed confidence that the bill will exit committee and be approved by the full Senate shortly. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is sponsoring the Senate bill. Bill would limit the legal options of animal rights activists if they are charged with theft for removing injured or diseased livestock

Justin Scacco

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