Animal Rights Activist Found Guilty for Rescuing Ailing Animals: A Troubling Shift in Prosecution Tactics

Wayne Hsiung’s Conviction Marks a Turning Point for DxE’s Open Rescue Cases

Animal rights activist and lawyer Wayne Hsiung, founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), has been found guilty of felony conspiracy and two misdemeanor charges for rescuing sick and injured animals from factory farms in Sonoma County, California. Hsiung’s conviction, the first resulting in incarceration for a DxE member, raises concerns about prosecutorial overreach and a shift in tactics by authorities. This article delves into the details of the case, highlighting the significance of Hsiung’s conviction and its potential implications for the animal rights movement.


Open Rescue: A Controversial Tactic

Hsiung and his fellow activists at DxE have long been engaged in “open rescue,” a tactic that involves publicly removing sick and injured animals from farming facilities. These rescues, which aim to shed light on the brutalities of factory farming, often lead to criminal charges. However, previous cases against DxE activists have resulted in dropped charges or acquittals, making Hsiung’s conviction a notable departure from the norm.

A Shift in Prosecution Tactics

In the past, charges against DxE activists typically revolved around theft or burglary, based on the alleged stealing of animal property. However, Hsiung’s case took a different turn. The prosecutor strategically dropped theft and burglary charges, instead focusing on felony conspiracy and trespassing. This shift in tactics suggests a calculated move by the authorities to secure a conviction, possibly influenced by previous cases that ended in acquittal.

The Sonoma County Rescues

Hsiung’s charges stem from two mass actions carried out by DxE in Sonoma County. The first took place at Sunrise Farms in 2018, while the second occurred at Reichardt Duck Farm in 2019. Prior investigations by DxE and other animal welfare organizations had revealed widespread violations of animal cruelty laws at these facilities, prompting the open-rescue plan. Hundreds of activists demonstrated outside, while a smaller group entered the properties to identify and remove sick and injured animals.

The Felony Conspiracy Conviction

Hsiung was convicted of felony conspiracy to commit misdemeanor trespass for the Sunrise Farms action, for which he was a lead organizer. However, the jury could not reach a verdict on a similar charge related to the Reichardt Duck Farm rescue, resulting in a mistrial. This discrepancy highlights the complexities and uncertainties surrounding the legal treatment of open rescue cases.

Prosecutorial Overreach and Legal Limitations

The prosecution’s decision to rely on trespassing charges rather than theft or burglary charges raises questions about prosecutorial overreach. By avoiding the issue of theft and property, the prosecution sidestepped the need to prove that the rescued animals had value as property. Additionally, the judge’s restrictions on photo and video evidence of animal cruelty, as well as the denial of a necessity defense, further hindered Hsiung’s defense.

A Troubling Precedent

Hsiung’s previous conviction for rescuing an ill baby goat resulted in a suspended sentence and probation, signaling a more lenient approach by the court. However, his current conviction and expected prison sentence indicate a potentially troubling shift in prosecutorial approaches to these cases. The animal liberation movement sees an opportunity for appeal to challenge prejudicial rulings and advocate for a necessity defense, which would fundamentally reshape case law around animal welfare.

Conclusion: Wayne Hsiung’s conviction for rescuing ailing animals from factory farms marks a significant turning point for DxE’s open rescue cases. The shift in prosecution tactics, the limitations placed on the defense, and the potential implications for animal rights activism raise important questions about the legal treatment of nonhuman animals. As Hsiung plans to appeal, the animal liberation movement sees an opportunity to challenge existing legal precedents and advocate for the rights of animals in the appellate court and the court of public opinion.