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Wayne Hsiung Found GUILTY in the Sonoma Rescue Trial

Wayne Hsiung Found GUILTY in the Sonoma Rescue Trial

Wayne Hsiung speaking to SxE supporters after a hearing of the trial

The vegan activist Wayne Hsiung was found guilty of three charges of ‘trespass’ and ‘conspiracy to commit trespass’ in the Sonoma Rescue Trial, while the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict for a fourth charge.

Wayne Hsiung arrested

Los Angeles, November 3, 2023 — Wayne Hsiung, the attorney and co-founder of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), was found guilty of three of four charges in the Sonoma Rescue trial and immediately sent to jail with no bail.

The jury announced its verdict on November 2, 2023, after six days of deliberations, but it could not reach a unanimous verdict for the fourth charge. Hsiung was the only person remaining on trial in this case after charges were dropped or plea deals were accepted regarding all the other co-defendants.

Hsiung, a former constitutional law professor, faced two misdemeanor ‘trespass’ and two felony ‘conspiracy to commit trespass’ charges as a lead organizer in the open rescues of chickens and ducks from two California animal factories. He was found guilty of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass at a chicken factory and misdemeanor trespass at a duck factory, but the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the felony conspiracy charge from the duck action, resulting in a “hung jury” on that charge.

APPEAL IS CERTAIN SAYS DxE

News media did cover the trial's outcome.
News media did cover the trial’s outcome.

After the verdict was read, Hsiung was immediately cuffed, taken into custody and sent to jail. He has a sentencing hearing set for November 30th, and it appears that he will remain in jail until then. Direct Action Everywhere posted on X that “Wayne will absolutely be appealing this conviction. #RightToRescue.

There was widespread outrage amongst animal rights activists over the outcome of this drawn-out trial.  Donny Moss, founder of TheirTurn.net, posted this comment on X: “You know the criminal justice system is broken when the people who rescue animals are the ‘criminals’ and those who abuse them are the victims.”

Hsiung represented himself in this case, as he has done in previous open rescue trials in other states — cases that are seen by animal rights activists as milestones to secure the legal right to rescue suffering animals from the animal agriculture industry.

In October of 2022, he was found not guilty, together with another co-defendant, in a case that involved the rescue of two very sick piglets from an animal factory in Utah. In March of 2023, he was successful in defending actress Alexandra Paul and co-defendant Alicia Santurio in a case involving the open rescue of two chickens from a slaughter-bound truck in California.

UnchainedTV has followed the Sonoma County case closely and has reported live repeatedly from outside the courthouse as the judge banned cameras from recording the trial itself. On the day of the verdict, the streaming network hosted a panel of experts and supporters who reacted to the decision live as it came down. You can watch as the events unfolded and news emerged that Hsiung was found guilty and would not be walking out of court to speak to the many activists who had gathered to support him and the right to rescue movement.

Cut the Head Off the Snake?

DxE activists holding dead chicjens
One of the DxE actions related to Open Rescue in California

Hsiung was considered by the prosecution to be the lead organizer in the open rescues of 70 chickens and ducks from three different factory farms in Sonoma County, California between 2018 and 2019.  Collectively these open rescues involved hundreds of people but prosecutors soon narrowed their focus to several key animal rights leaders. Then, just before the trial began, prosecutors suddenly dropped all charges against DxE organizer Cassandra King. Then, DxE co-founder Priya Sawhney elected to accept a plea deal after disagreements with her legal team over defense strategy.

So, in the end, only one person went on trial: Wayne Hsiung. Hsiung is arguably one of the nation’s most prominent animal rights leaders, organizing dramatic actions in numerous animal factories that have resulted in several articles in the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.  While UnchainedTV cannot independently confirm this, activists have claimed prosecutors were overheard saying their mission was to “cut the head off the snake” of the open rescue movement. Hsiung was kept under a gag order during the trial, preventing him from speaking to the news media. No video or still cameras were allowed inside court. Even a courtroom sketch artist was banned from sketching anyone but the defendant. Hsiung’s supporters have pointed to those extreme measures, along with the refusal to grant bail, as an attempt to silence Hsiung and suppress news media coverage of the trial and the growing open rescue movement.

Animals Are Not Mere Property

The activists involved have maintained they were acting within the law because, they allege, there were violations of law in the way these chickens and ducks were being kept and there were sick animals who needed veterinary care.

On September 1, 2023, prosecutors amended the charges to remove those related to theft and burglary, effectively limiting what evidence the defense could offer at trial. By reducing the charges to just conspiracy to commit trespass and trespass, the defense was left with no way to visually show the jurors why the activists did what they did, namely rescue suffering animals.

After several unusual pre-trial hearings in September, the actual trial started on October 4th in Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa, California, and ended on November 2nd after the jury spent more than 35 hours deliberating.

“I hope other people will see what is happening in Sonoma County, and they will take to the streets, they will get into activism, and advocate for animals in any way they feel comfortable.” — Nathan Semmel, Attorney

Was the Sonoma Rescue Trial Fair?

Wayne Hsiung and DxE supporters in front of the courtDuring the trial, Judge Laura Passaglia, a former prosecutor, made a series of decisions that shocked animal rights supporters and First Amendment advocates.

The judge presided over a pre-trial hearing on September 27, where future defense witnesses were allowed to be cross-examined by the prosecution before the jury was even selected, leaving some legal observers stunned.

The judge also rejected one veterinarian for the defense as a witness, declaring her irrelevant.

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The judge only allowed the jury to see a couple of very short videos of the conditions of the animals in the factories where the open rescue events took place. Those videos were not very graphic and only provided a glimpse of the conditions, not reflecting the extent of the suffering these animals endure. Direct Action Everywhere has published other videos taken inside these facilities that were much more graphic in terms of the number of dead and injured animals. The jurors never saw those more graphic videos. Therefore, say critics, the defendant was prevented from being able to explain to the jurors his motivation. Defense witnesses described what they saw inside the animal factories, but the judge did not let them characterize it as cruelty.

According to those observers allowed into the courtroom, the judge did not allow Hsiung to use as a possible defense for this case the 597e rule, which -at the time of these open rescues – stated that a person can take action to help animals that have been deprived of food and water for at least 12 hours.

On September 27th, UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell hosted a panel of experts who discussed some of what they considered to be unusual decisions for this case before it even started. You can watch this discussion here:

Pressure Cooker in the Courthouse?

It is believed that the many days of jury deliberation happened because a few jurors could not agree with all the others. On Wednesday, November 1st, the jury told the judge that, after at least 9 votes, they only had a verdict for one of the four charges. The judge sent them back to continue deliberating, which they did for two more days. Defense attorney and former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Nathan Semmel believes that this may be an effective grounds for appeal, suggesting the holdout jurors could have been unduly pressured into acquiescing to the majority opinion. He adds there are many other grounds for an appeal in a case that has shocked many legal observers for court-ordered restrictions that are more often seen in cases involving  organized crime figures. Noted UnchainedTV host Velez-Mitchell, “The massive amounts of taxpayer dollars spent to prosecute this man for a case involving a few dozen chickens and ducks shows that the open rescue movement is a real threat to some of the nation’s most powerful interests.”

Wayne to Prosecutors: Thank you!

Wayne Hsiung, in a video made in his home just before his conviction, expressed gratitude to the prosecutors who’ve worked to put him in prison saying,  “If these charges hadn’t been brought, we wouldn’t even get a chance to set a precedent for the right to rescue.” Hsiung has noted that case law is more likely to be established on appeal. In sum, this case is nowhere near being over.

We invite anyone from the corporations involved in this case, or the prosecuting team, to comment at any time.

“Part of the way we create social change is putting our money where our mouth is, and bearing the risk, and even the punishment, of an abusing system.”— Wayne Hsiung, attorney and activist

 

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