On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a law making it a crime for activists to produce videos of abuse of livestock on farms. The crime is called "agriculture production facility interference" and it is Missouri's response to a wave of undercover investigative teams gaining access to facilities to show poor conditions and ill treatment of animals.
The law applies to any person who makes or distributes these videos without the effective consent of the owner of the agricultural facility. The new law also makes it a crime to be employed by the agricultural facility under false pretenses. Missouri's new law comes on the heels of similar legislation out of Iowa, which criminalized lying to gain access to farms to report abuse. Iowa was embarrassed when a non-profit animal rights group released a video of abuse of chickens and pigs on Iowa farms.
This is just the first step. Another vote by the House is required to send the legislation to the Senate, which may pose some difficulty for the supporters of the bill. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, believes that the undercover activists are only destroying the agricultural industry and pose a larger problem than the actual ill treatment of animals on Missouri farms. Opponents of the bill, however, believe that it is an attempt to quell protest, which is an attack on the First Amendment. Rep. Tracy McCreery said that the bill is an "attempt to silence advocates or others who might shine a light on unhealthy practices."
The legislation is expansive, covering not only farms, but also processing facilities, and even the means of transporting the livestock. It also applies to any land or building used for commercial agricultural purposes.
If the new law passes, those convicted of making or distributing video without the consent of the owner would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could face up to one year behind bars and a $1000 fine. Repeat offenders may receive felony convictions. Misrepresenting oneself to gain access to an agricultural facility, now called "agricultural facility fraud" could result in a misdemeanor conviction as well, with up to 6 months behind bars and a $500 fine. For subsequent offenses, the punished is increased to one year in jail and a $1000 fine. Missouri legislators also made sure to increase the punishment for first degree trespassing and false impersonation, making those punishments comparable to the punishments for these newly defined crimes.
The addition of new crimes always means the addition of new charges. If you've had a run in with police and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don't hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.