Friday, November 15, 2013

United States v. Stevens case brief

United States v. Stevens case brief summary
130 S.Ct. 1577 (2010)

Defendant was convicted of selling depictions of animal cruelty in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 48 but asserted that § 48 was facially invalid as violative of defendant's freedom of speech. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, petitioner United States appealed the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit which determined that § 48 was unconstitutional.

Animal cruelty was defined in § 48 to mean the maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding, or killing of an animal which conduct violated the law of the state where the creation, sale, or possession of the depiction of the cruelty occurred. The defendant contended that the definition of depiction included common depictions of ordinary and lawful activities, but the government argued that the statute only prohibited extreme material.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that § 48 was substantially overbroad and thus invalid under U.S. Cost. amendment I. 
  • Depictions of animal cruelty were not, as a class, categorically unprotected speech, and § 48did not even require that the depicted conduct be cruel as suggested by maiming, mutilation, and torture, but not by wounding or killing. 
  • Further, the requirement that the depicted conduct be unlawful extended to laws such as hunting and animal protection laws which were unrelated to cruelty, depictions of conduct which was lawful in one state could constitute illegal depictions in another state, and the government's expressed intent to apply § 48 only to extreme depictions was insufficient to overcome the statute's overbreadth.


The judgment finding § 48 unconstitutional was affirmed. 8-1 decision; 1 dissent.

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