Answering Your Questions About U.S. v. Stevens

Posted by April Nockleby, ALDF's Online Content Manager on October 1, 2009

ALDF Attorney Matthew LiebmanOn October 6, the United States Supreme Court will directly address the
issue of animal cruelty for the first time in more than fifteen years. Last week, ALDF invited our supporters to send in questions about United States v. Stevens, a case involving the sale of dogfighting videos.

The question before the Court in Stevens is whether 18 U.S.C. § 48
(“Section 48″), a federal law that criminalizes the sale of depictions
of animal cruelty, violates the Free Speech Clause of the First
Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The
defendant in the case is Robert Stevens, who was convicted in January
2005 of violating Section 48 by selling three videos depicting
dogfights and hog-dogging,
including graphic depictions of a pit bull mutilating the lower jaw of
a live pig. Not only did Stevens sell the videos, he also narrated
them, produced them, and advertised them in dogfighting magazines.
Stevens appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit. In a 10-3 decision,
the Third Circuit held that Section 48 violated the Free Speech Clause
of the First Amendment. The court declined the government’s request to
establish a new class of speech–depictions of animal cruelty–that is
“unprotected” by the First Amendment. To date, there are only a handful
of “unprotected” types of speech: slander/libel, incitement, obscenity,
fighting words, true threats, and child pornography.

The complexities of this important case are clarified in this Q & A session with ALDF Attorney Matthew Liebman. Read it here.

Have additional questions? Post them in the comments section below.


8 thoughts on “Answering Your Questions About U.S. v. Stevens

  1. Margarita says:

    Can people go and stand outside the courthouse to show support for this cause on that day?

  2. Madeline, Fairbanks Alaska says:

    I do not understand why images and audio recordings depicting the torture and murder of ANY sentient creature do not fall under the obscenity category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment. It seems intuitive to me to define such images and sounds as obscene, and the absolute lowest form of human “entertainment”, I cannot grasp the 3rd Circuit’s reasoning for refusing to place it under the obscenity category of unprotected speech. Can you help me understand why 10 out of 13 highly educated legal professionals failed to make the connection between the images/recordings at issues and obscene forms of speech?

  3. Matthew Liebman says:

    Madeline, that’s a great question. Under the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California, for speech to be obscene, it must “appeal to the prurient interest in sex.” Section 48 applies to all depictions of animal cruelty, including those that aren’t sexual in nature, such as videos of dogfighting. The Third Circuit’s opinion in the Stevens case recognized that a ban on crush videos alone might be constitutional because it centers on sexualized violence against animals and may therefore be obscene; but because Section 48 reaches beyond crush videos to non-sexual cruelty, the obscenity exception to the First Amendment was not applicable. Some have argued that the obscenity doctrine should extend beyond non-sexual depictions, but whether the Court will adopt this position remains to be seen.

  4. Matthew Liebman says:

    Margarita, you would need to check with the Supreme Court to see what its policy is. Whether one has a First Amendment right to protest on government-owned property is a complicated question. Other groups have protested in front of the Court, although some people have been arrested. In any event, the Court is typically not responsive to public protest, so unless you’re coordinating a large protest with a media presence, your time might be better spent on another activist project tomorrow. See ALDF’s page of action alerts for ideas:
    http://www.aldf.org/article.php?list=type&type=85

  5. RonJeremy says:

    “Not only did Stevens sell the videos, he also narrated them, produced them, and advertised them”

    He didn’t film them? Was he even present? If some people argue that dog fighting is NOT cruel, don’t they have the right voice their arguement? Who decides what is right and what is wrong, the aldf? NAZIS used to hold mass book burnings you know. How is this different at all? Don’t give the “child porn” arguement, because these are animals, not children. Therefore they are not entitled to the same protection under the law. You wouldn’t be able to solicit so many simple minded people’s funds with that arguement though huh. You probably won’t even allow my post.

  6. Even though our laws don’t yet go far enough to protect animals, as we see it, animals are certainly granted some clear protections under the law as it stands. Dogfighting is an example of this – it is illegal in every state and is also a federal felony under a law signed by then-President George W. Bush.

  7. RonJeremy says:

    And you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Don’t you think Robert Stevens should be entitled to his?

  8. susie michelle higgins says:

    i have a similar case and i am trying desperately to talk to someone with a heartbeat about my case.i have already took it to the vet board and we have a hearing for december 15.ive already been told that the vet is gonna have his license revoked.but they cant make him pay for the third surgery that my cat needs.it has already cost me $450.00 for two surgerys that the vetanarin did .and the pin in her leg is sticking out at least 3cmsyou can see it above her skin .the board has helped me out and i am grateful.but they said they cant make him pay the $450.00 BACK TO ME THAT IVE ALREADY PAID NOR CAN THEY MAKE HIM PAY FOR THE THIRD SURGERY THAT SHE NEEDS.THEY SAID THEY COULD REQUEST HIM TO PAY OR DO THE SURGERY TO FIX IT BUT THEY CANT MAKE HIM.SORRY BUT HES ALREADY DID TWO SURGERYS WRONG.I DONT TRUST HIM .HES SEEN ME AT A CONVIENCE STORE AND EXCUSE MY LANGUAGE HE CALLED ME A FU EN B TCH.AFTER THE SECOND SURGERY HE THREW MY CAT OUT OF HIS BUSINESS.SHE WASNT EVEN OFF THE ANTESIA YET.HE GAVE ME TWO PAINPILLS FOR HER AND SENT US ON OUR WAY.I HAD BORROWED THE MONEY FOR THE FIRST SURGERY.I HAD TO IND ANOTHER VET THAT WOULD EXCEPT MY CAR TITTLE UNTIL I COULD GET IT PAYED OFF.AS SOON AS I TOOK HER IN THEY PUT HER ON A MOREPHINE PAIN PATCH FOR TWO WEEKS.THE BOARD SAID THE PIN NEEDS TO BE REMOVED ASAP.BUT I HAVE TO FILE A CIVIAL SUIT IN ORDER TO MAKE HIM PAY ANYTHING FOR HIS MISTAKES.I DONT HAVE THAT KIND OF MONEY.PLUS BECAUSE THERE IS MORE THAN ONE DOCTOR THAT PRACTICES THERE THERE CANT BE A CIVIAL SUIT MADE.I HAVE CALLED EVERY LAWYER IN THE BOOK AND KNOW ONE TAKES ANIMAL CASES.THE ALDF.ORG REFERRED ME TO A 501-376-3423. BUT THEY TOLD ME I WAS A TORT.I DONT HAVE A CLUE WHAT THAT MEANS.I DONT UNDERSTAND IF THERE GONNA REVOKE HIS LICENSE THEN HE IS GUILTY.HOW COME I CANT GET NO ASSISTANCE.IM ONE OF THE TWO VICTIMS HERE.THEYRE GONNA CHARGE HIM PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT AND FAILURE TO KEEP GOOD RECORDS.MY KALLI IS LIKE MY DAUGHTER CHEYENNE 7.THERE ISNT NOTHING I WOULDNT DO FOR HER.IF THEY ARE CHARGING HIM WHY ISNT HE INTITITTLED TO HAVE TO PAY FOR THE SURGERYS.TO ME ITS A OPEN SHUT CASE.HES BEENING CHARGED AND LICENSE TAKING AWAY.THAT SHOWS GUILT.IF SOMEONE COULD TELL ME A DIRECTION TO GO IN ARE MAY KNOW SOMEONE THAT WILL SPEAK UP FOR HER RIGHTS.PLEASE LET ME KNOW MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS higginssusie@yahoo.com.and my phone number is 501-563-3252.i dont know what else to do.th pin is been in there since july and other vets say it needs to be removed before she catches it on something.they already pulled it out of her joint.and said it could possibly kill her if it hits the wrong place.if anyone knows of a number that i can call please let us know.thank you for your interest and god bless you.susie higgins