Post a Hunting Photo, Go to Jail
A case to be heard by Supreme Court of the United States might result in felony charges and jail time for any person, outlet or entity that shows or sells depictions of hunting activities.
According to the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the case of United States of America v. Robert J. Stevens could expose a private gun owner who is shown online with game taken legally in one state to criminal charges in another jurisdiction where taking the game isn’t legal.
Taking, selling or publishing images of hunting, fishing or trapping could mean felony charges and jail time, for
television show hosts and producers
Web content publishers
stock photography agencies
book authors and sellers
public relations agencies
and hunters and anglers, in general.
The government's case against Stevens poses a serious threat to those who produce depictions of hunting and fishing activities, either personally or privately.
Robert J. Stevens of Virginia was convicted of criminal charges for producing and selling films about dogs. Stevens' conviction was overturned as a result of a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said the law relied upon to convict Stevens was unconstitutional.
Stevens may still go to prison. The case is now being heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, according to POMA.
The Third Circuit struck down a federal law banning "depictions of animal cruelty." 18 USC 48. The statute does not ban acts of animal cruelty themselves (and so this case is not about such actions). It bans images of animals being hurt, wounded or killed if the depicted conduct is illegal under federal law or illegal under the state law either (i) where the creation of the depiction occurs, or (ii) where the depiction is sold or possessed.
That means that a picture taken of the killing of an animal during a hunt (perfectly lawful where it occurred) could be a federal felony crime if that picture is sold or possessed somewhere in the United States where hunting (or the particular type of hunting, ie, crossbow) is prohibited.
As the court of appeals explained, the law now makes it a federal felony to buy a picture of bullfighting in Spain or an image shot by a journalist of a hunter or angler taking a shot at a legal game animal or catching a fish -- if that action is unlawful anywhere in the U.S.
The law creates an exception if a jury finds that the images have "serious" value. The government defined "serious" as "significant and of great import." The result accordingly is that all depictions of animal killings that might be unlawful somewhere in the U.S. are now presumptively federal felonies, with the only hope of protection being that a jury in San Francisco (or wherever an eager prosecutor wants to go) agrees that the images are "significant and of great import."
The government and Humane Society, which is pushing this issue hard, are trying to paint this as a case about dog fighting, since that incites peoples' emotions. It's about the First Amendment.
Mr. Stevens, is a 69-year-old hunter and Pit Bull dog lover from Southern Virginia. He is a published author. He has no criminal record at all -- other than this conviction. He has been sentenced to more than three years (37 months) in prison for making films. Nothing else.
A prosecutor hauled him to Pittsburgh, perhaps because obtaining a conviction in rural Virginia would be difficult, to prosecute him for: one documentary he made about training catch dogs for hunting (called "Catch Dogs"); and two documentaries he made about Pit Bulls and their fighting history.
For that, Stevens faces spending three years in federal prison.
Of particular concern to the hunting and fishing industry is the fact Stevens' prosecution rested on his film "Catch Dogs", which showed how dogs are trained to help catch prey (wild boar, etc.). The film shows a dog making a mistake in trying to catch a hog, but does so with Stevens talking over the images about the training mistake and explaining what should be done to teach dogs to catch prey properly.
There is no allegation that Stevens engaged in dog fighting or any acts of animal cruelty. Nor is it even alleged that the images depicted in his films were illegal when taken. Furthermore, he did not take the images himself, but edited together films taken by others -- films that were recorded in Japan, where the conduct is perfectly legal, and from historic films from the 60s and 70s in rural America.
To be sure, the latter two films contain extensive images of dog fighting. But Stevens is not a dog fighter, he opposes dog fighting, but loves the traits in Pit Bulls that made them fighters.
Stevens' films were made to document the strength, endurance, and similar features of Pit Bulls to support his argument (made at length in his book) that Pit Bulls make great hunting dogs, protection dogs, and schutzhund (strength contests) dogs.
A brief of the circuit opinion follows below.
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