Judge Throws Out Case Against California Animal-Rights Activists

A federal judge in San Jose has dismissed charges against four animal-rights activists accused of harassing researchers at the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Santa Cruz in 2007 and 2008. The four were the first to be charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a 2006 law intended to help investigators and prosecutors crack down on animal-rights extremists.

In a 14-page ruling, Judge Ronald Whyte criticized the indictment against the activists for failing to provide a sufficiently specific description of their alleged crimes. "The indictment largely parrots the language of the criminal statute," Whyte wrote. However, in dismissing the case "without prejudice," Whyte leaves the door open for prosecutors to try again.

According to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, so far there has been only two AETA convictions: against Alex Jason Hall and William James Viehl, who were recently sentenced to 21 and 24 months in prison, respectively, for releasing 650 minks and vandalizing a fur ranch in Utah in 2008. A trial in another AETA case, involving Scott DeMuth, a University of Minnesota sociology graduate student accused of participating in a 2004 lab break-in at the University of Iowa, is currently scheduled for September.