Wayne Hsiung is a well-known California animal activist and himself a lawyer, but he won’t have a fool for a client in his appeal of a felony conviction and 90-day jail term.

That’s because Hsiung won’t be representing himself but will be represented by the University of Denver Law School attorneys involved in the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project.

Hsiung co-founded Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the activist organization heavily involved in the events subject to the litigation.

The DU campus unit may be best known for bringing down dozens of state laws that tried to make private undercover investigations of animal abuse illegal. Their federal court victories resulted in virtually all those laws being found unconstitutional.

Hsiung was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 24 months of probation after being convicted of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass charges in November, following an 8-week trial including six days of jury deliberation.

“Substantial prejudicial and reversible error occurred in Hsiung’s trial,” said Animal Activist Legal Defense Project Staff Attorney Chris Carraway, who is representing Hsiung on appeal.  “Stunningly, Judge Passaglia prohibited the jury from knowing the full scope of animal cruelty at these companies as well as the activists’ extensive efforts to obtain law enforcement of animal cruelty laws. Thus, Hsiung could not explain the intent behind his actions–a crucial element of the alleged crimes. Likewise, Judge Passaglia improperly prohibited Hsiung from mounting a necessity defense, though nothing in California law prohibits the applicability of necessity to animal rescue. We are optimistic about the reversal on appeal.”

Carraway also noted that trial participants were unconstitutionally gagged from the beginning of the trial, and press access was significantly curtailed.

California’s “Right to Rescue Act” allows anyone to enter a vehicle to rescue an animal from “circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”  DxE’s rescues and Hsiung’s defense are part of a broad effort to extend the “Right to Rescue” beyond vehicles to allow rescue from commercial industrial facilities.

Hsiung’s prosecution stemmed from two open rescues at Sonoma County farms–major egg producer Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm, California’s largest duck farm. Activists returned with 37 chickens and 32 ducks, getting them veterinary care and “rehoming” them to sanctuaries. While both farms market themselves as “humane,” DxE did not think so and claimed systemic violations of animal cruelty laws. 

 After Hsiung’s sentencing in November,  three more activists were arrested on multiple felonies and misdemeanors while attempting to report once again evidence of unlawful animal cruelty at Sonoma County farms.

“California proudly enacted the strongest animal welfare law in the country, and its Right to Rescue Act allows literal breaking to rescue dogs,” said Hsiung. “But billions of animals suffer while animal cruelty laws go unenforced and the state prosecutes rescuers for giving aid to animals who are on the brink of death. We are working to ensure that all animals are protected from suffering and have the right to be safe, happy, and free.”

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at DU’s Sturm College of Law works to empower and defend animal advocates through activist defense, affirmative litigation, and training law students to join and transform the field of animal law. 

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