Animal Activist & Attorney Wayne Hsiung Appeals Conviction For Rescuing Sick Animals From Factory Farms

This week, the prominent animal rights activist and lawyer Wayne Hsiung, who was jailed last year for nonviolent animal rescues at two Sonoma County factory farms, appealed his conviction. Through local counsel, lawyers at the University of Denver Law School-based Animal Activist Legal Defense Project filed a notice of appeal on behalf of Hsiung who is the co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).

Hsiung was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 24 months of probation after being convicted of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespassing 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 will represent 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 was unable to 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 reversal on appeal.”

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

Notably, California’s “Right to Rescue Act” allows anyone to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal from “circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to an 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 factory farms–major egg producer Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm, California’s largest duck farm. Activists rescued 37 chickens and 32 ducks and provided them with veterinary care and are rehoming them to accredited sanctuaries.

While both farms market themselves as “humane,” years of undercover investigations at Sunrise and Reichardt farms, by DxE and other groups, have shown systemic violations of animal cruelty laws.

At Sunrise, which supplies eggs to Whole Foods and Costco, investigators have documented tens of thousands of birds confined in towering, 15-foot-tall rows of tightly packed cages, inside of which many birds were sick, dying, and dead, as well as injured birds who were unable to access food or water. Advocates allege these findings violated California’s landmark animal welfare law, Proposition 2, which bans intensive confinement in animal agriculture, and California’s animal cruelty statute.

For years prior to the rescues, DxE activists reported their cruelty findings to and requested intervention from authorities, but they were repeatedly rebuffed. Immediately following Hsiung’s sentencing in November, three more activists were arrested on multiple felonies and misdemeanors while attempting to once again report evidence of unlawful animal cruelty at Sonoma County factory farms.

“California proudly enacted the strongest animal welfare law in the country and its Right to Rescue Act allows literal breaking and entering 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 actually protected from suffering, and have the right to be safe, happy, and free.”

Hsiung’s conviction follows two groundbreaking acquittals in other open rescue cases. In 2022, he and a co-defendant were acquitted of felony burglary and theft in a piglet rescue case in St. George, Utah, and earlier in 2023, Hsiung and Carraway successfully defended two DxE animal rescuers accused of theft in Merced, California. Hsiung and two co-defendants will be tried in March in Wisconsin for their rescue of beagles from a facility that sells dogs to testing labs.

The Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at the Sturm College of Law works to empower and defend animal advocates through activist defense, affirmative litigation, and trains law students to join and transform the field of animal law. Learn more HERE!

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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