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Wayne Hsiung Sentenced to 90 Days in Jail in the Sonoma Open Rescue Trial

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Wayne Hsiung Sentenced to 90 Days in Jail in the Sonoma Open Rescue Trial

Wayne Hsiung and his dog companion Julie

The animal rights activist Wayne Hsiung was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years probation for three trespass-related convictions in the Sonoma Open Rescue Trial

Panel discussing Wayne Hsiung sentencing
Unchainedtv panel discussing Wayne Hsiung sentencing

Los Angeles, December 1, 2023 — On November 30th, Wayne Hsiung, the attorney and co-founder of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two-years probation in the Sonoma Open Rescue Trial involving mass actions to rescue suffering chickens and ducks from two animal factories. With time served since his November 2nd conviction and California’s half-time credits, Hsiung will reportedly walk out of jail in just a couple of weeks.

A Twist in the Sentence

Hsiung could have been sentenced to three years in jail. So, at first blush, the relatively light sentence caused relief amongst his supporters. However, it quickly became apparent that the sentence contained an onerous condition. Without the prosecution asking for this, the judge ordered Hsiung to have no contact with the other named “co-conspirators” in this case, who just happen to be most of his closest friends. This no contact order is to remain in effect for two years.  Direct Action Everywhere organizers and supporters at the courthouse condemned this stay-away order as an oppressive tactic to prevent Hsiung from further expanding the Open Rescue movement. Priya Sawhney, who – along with Hsiung – co-founded Direct Action Everywhere and who is taking care of Hsiung’s dog during his incarceration, teared up as she told UnchainedTV viewers that Judge Laura Passaglia’s ruling was cruel and will unfairly isolate Hsiung from those for whom he cares the most.

“The fact they are trying to impose their power to keep Wayne from his friends…is sickening, is heartbreaking. The audacity to try to break him.”— Renee King-Sonnen, the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

UnchainedTV closely followed this case, reporting live throughout the trial.  On the day of the sentence, the streaming network gathered an expert panel which included Francisco Guerreiro, a European Parliament Member who has publicly condemned Hsiung’s conviction, Maryam Kamali at the courthouse, Renee King-Sonnen of the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, Ellen Dent of Animal Alliance Network, UnchainedTV hosts Michelle Celestino, Lindsey Baker, Paige Parsons Roache and Jane Velez-Mitchell. You can watch the entire LIVE coverage, which includes the emotional speeches outside the courthouse after the sentence was handed down, and also captures the moment three other DxE activists were arrested for other open rescue actions during a post-sentencing march:

The Sentence that Marked a Moment in History

This is a key image from the #ProsecuteThis campaign.
This is a key image from the #ProsecuteThis campaign.

The Sonoma Open Rescue case involved the rescue of 70 chickens and ducks from two different animal factories in Sonoma County, California between 2018 and 2019. Prior to those actions, Direct Action Everywhere had gone undercover inside those facilities and videotaped injured and dead animals, presenting the evidence to law enforcement and demanding an investigation, alleging violations of California’s animal cruelty laws. However, law enforcement refused to investigate or prosecute.

So, DxE then moved to daytime actions called “open rescues.” Collectively, these rescues involved hundreds of people converging on these massive, animal-packed factories with some activists going inside to remove animals and others peacefully demonstrating outside. The actions sparked a huge police response with dozens of cops in riot gear handcuffing activists. Despite mass arrests, prosecutors soon narrowed their focus to several key animal rights leaders, ending up only prosecuting Hsiung.

The Key Figure in the Trial Was Gagged

During the trial, Hsiung and his team were kept under a gag order, preventing them from speaking to the news media. No video or still cameras were allowed inside the 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.

On November 2nd, Hsiung, who represented himself in the case, was found guilty of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass at the chicken factory and misdemeanor trespass at the 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. 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.

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The Controversial Sonoma Open Rescue Trial

Wayne Hsiung talking to law enforcer
Wayne Hsiung talking to law enforcer

During the trial, Judge Laura Passaglia, a former prosecutor herself, made a series of controversial decisions. She presided over a pre-trial hearing on September 27th, where future defense witnesses were allowed to be cross-examined by the prosecution before the jury was even selected. She also rejected one veterinarian for the defense as a witness, declaring her irrelevant. The judge only allowed the jury to see a couple of very short videos of animals inside the factories where the rescues took place. The jury did not see any of the gruesome videotaped evidence of injured and dead animals that DxE collected as that was all blocked by the judge, who also prevented the defense from characterizing the conditions as animal cruelty.

The jury took six days to arrive at their verdict. After it was read, Hsiung was immediately cuffed, taken into custody and sent to jail. He was denied bail and remained in jail until the sentencing hearing, after which he was returned to jail. At the time of the verdict, Direct Action Everywhere posted on X that “Wayne will absolutely be appealing this conviction. #RightToRescue.”

In a blog he wrote from jail, Hsiung listed six reasons why he thinks he was convicted: “1) Defenses we had been allowed in prior cases (e.g., good-faith intent) were denied; 2) Key evidence — such as our reports to authorities — was excluded; 3) Our witnesses lost the battle of credibility; 4) We were denied the right to “impeach;” 5) We made a number of bad legal moves; 6) The defense’s moral appeal lacked the power to inspire the jury.”

A Successful Appeal Might Establish Case Law to Help Animal Rescue

An ironic aspect of the law is that, in order to win on appeal, one has to first lose the initial case. An appellate victory could establish case law that opens the legal door to rescuing suffering factory animals. In this trial, Judge Passaglia had ruled that the necessity defense, where someone commits a minor infraction to achieve a higher good such as breaking a car window to rescue a trapped child, does not apply to animals. However, a higher court might decide that it does, thereby establishing new case law that would apply t0 future trials, essentially helping to establish the legal right to rescue. This is what Hsiung hopes will happen. He calls it “losing forward.”  That, he says, is why he has repeatedly risked his own liberty.

“The blow to this movement — and the suffering I will personally endure — will be an opportunity to ‘lose forward.’ To take the energy and anger from an apparent ‘loss’ and channel it for greater progress.”— Wayne Hsiung, attorney and activist

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