Transcript of United States vs. Stevens
United States vs. Stevens Argument Date: October 6, 2009 Decided: April 20, 2010 U.S. prosecuted Robert J. Stevens for selling videos depicting dog fights. Issue: Whether 18 U.S.C. § 48’s ban on knowingly selling depictions of animal cruelty with the intention of placing those depictions in interstate commerce for commercial gain violates the First Amendment. FACTS of case: First tried in the District Court of Western Pennsylvania in March 2004. Robert J. Stevens operated a business that advertised and sold pit bull related videos and merchandise. In 2003 law enforcement officials found several copies of videos and other related merchandise that depicted graphic animal cruelty. The first district court found Stevens guilty on 3 counts of violating this law and sentenced him to 37 months in prison. Stevens appealed to the 3rd circuit court of appeals. Outcome: claim sustained. 18 U.S.C. § 48: "whoever knowingly creates, sells, or posses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both." This federal law was put into affect in 1999 under the Clinton administration. While at the third circuit lower court, Stevens argued that this federal law was a violation of the First Amendment. This First Amendment claim was sustained. It was granted a writ of certiorari on April 20, 2009. Supreme Court decided to sustain claim.Full transcript
Dissenting opinion: J. Alito.
Supreme court vote: 8-1. Conclusion: Supreme court’s ruling is remarkably narrow. Did not say that depictions of extreme animal cruelty are protected by the first amendment. They only said that for Mr. Stevens himself the law is currently overbroad and he should not be convicted. Even though not stated, this ruling will probably lead to a narrower animal cruelty law that does it in a way that would not include hunting videos.