This summary examines the legal issues that arise when animal activist take extreme measures to document animal cruelty. Their actions, ofter termed "ecoterrorism," often involve taking photographs of alleged animal cruelty that can often be admitted at trial. However, many states have begun to enact laws targeting the actions of animal activists.
When animal activists want to convince other people to help them, they often use pictures of animals being mistreated to do so. In recent years, activists have gone further and used photographs of animals, which they may have taken after having trespassed onto private property, to encourage the police to file criminal charges against animal owners. Activists have been fairly successful at having photographs admitted during trials, but they have paid a price in the form of greater obstacles and harsher penalties for obtaining evidence.
Photographs are often admitted into criminal trials as evidence. Judges will usually admit photographs if it can be proven that they accurately show the way things were at the crime scene and if they will be helpful to the jury when they are making their decision. Sometimes photographs will show things that are violent or upsetting and will make the jury emotional, but they are often still admitted as long as they are accurate and will help the jury reach a verdict.
It can sometimes be difficult for public officials to gather evidence against agricultural farm owners because they are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which says that public officials may not make unreasonable search and seizures of private property. Police usually need a warrant to enter private property. Evidence gathered by private citizens however, like animal activists, is not subject to the same regulations.
Because some politicians believe that animal activists are becoming more extreme, several states have passed legislation making penalties for people who commit crimes in order to advocate on behalf of animals, like trespassing in order to obtain photographs, more harsh. Much of this legislation refers to extreme animal activists as terrorists or ecoterrorists. Animal activists are now being characterized, less as champions of animals, and more as threats against the country.