Wayne Hsiung, founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), has been convicted of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor charges for his involvement in open rescues of sick and injured animals from factory farms. This marks a significant shift in the authorities’ approach and raises concerns about prosecutorial overreach.
Animal rights activist and lawyer Wayne Hsiung has been found guilty of felony conspiracy and two misdemeanor charges for his role in rescuing ailing animals from factory farms in Sonoma County, California. Hsiung, the founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), and his fellow activists have been engaging in publicized “open rescues” for years, which involve removing sick and injured animals from farming facilities. While previous cases against DxE activists have resulted in dropped charges or acquittals, Hsiung’s conviction marks the first time an activist has been incarcerated for an open rescue. This outcome raises questions about the authorities’ changing tactics and the potential for prosecutorial overreach.
A Shift in Prosecutorial Tactics
Hsiung’s conviction on felony conspiracy charges suggests a shift in the authorities’ approach to open rescues. In the past, DxE activists have often faced theft or burglary charges based on the alleged theft of animal property. However, Hsiung’s charges focused on felony conspiracy to commit misdemeanor trespass, resulting in a more severe punishment for planning to trespass than for the trespassing itself. This strategic move by the prosecutor indicates a response to previous cases that led to acquittals, highlighting a troubling trend of prosecutorial overreach.
The Background of the Case
Hsiung’s charges stem from two mass actions conducted by DxE in Sonoma County at Sunrise Farms in 2018 and 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, leading to the decision to conduct open rescues. During these actions, hundreds of activists demonstrated outside the farms, while a smaller group entered the properties to identify and remove sick and injured animals, which were then taken to a veterinarian for treatment.
The Prosecution’s Approach
While many demonstrators initially faced misdemeanor charges and entered diversion programs to have the charges dropped, Hsiung was the only remaining defendant. The prosecution strategically dropped theft and burglary charges against him, focusing instead on felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespassing. By avoiding the question of theft and property, the prosecution relied on trespassing charges, which were then elevated with a vague felony conspiracy statute. This approach allowed the prosecution to sidestep the issue of animal property and potentially secure a conviction.
Stifled Defense and Prejudicial Rulings
Hsiung’s defense faced numerous obstacles throughout the trial. The judge barred the presentation of photo and video evidence of animal cruelty, which had been crucial in previous DxE cases. Additionally, Hsiung was prohibited from making a necessity defense, which argues that his actions were justified to aid animals suffering from criminal animal cruelty. Instead, he was only allowed to present a “mistake of law” defense, claiming that he believed his actions were legal based on extensive research. However, the lack of visual evidence severely weakened this defense.
The Implications and Hope for Appeal
Hsiung plans to appeal his conviction, citing prejudicial rulings and significant errors made by the judge. Animal rights activists and legal experts see this as an opportunity to challenge the legal status of animals and raise awareness about the necessity of open rescues. While activists have previously succeeded in winning cases based on the right to rescue animals from abuse, this conviction provides another avenue for litigating animal welfare laws in appellate courts and the court of public opinion.
Conclusion: Wayne Hsiung’s conviction in the landmark open rescue case marks a significant shift in the authorities’ approach to animal rights activism. The prosecution’s strategic decision to focus on felony conspiracy charges and avoid the issue of animal property raises concerns about prosecutorial overreach. Hsiung’s case highlights the challenges faced by activists seeking to bring attention to the brutalities of factory farming and the need for legal recognition of animal rights. As Hsiung plans to appeal his conviction, the animal liberation movement sees an opportunity to reshape case law and advocate for the rights of nonhuman animals.