Appellate Court upholds animal fighting ban

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2012:

RICHMOND, Virginia–A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on April 20, 2012 unanimously
affirmed that Congress has the constitutional authority to prohibit
animal fighting. The verdict upheld federal legislation passed in
2007 that created felony penalties for cockfighting and dogfighting
in cases involving interstate transport of participants, animals,
money, or fighting paraphernalia. The 2007 legislation reinforced
sections of the federal Animal Welfare Act which have been in effect
since 1976, but previously carried only misdemeanor penalties.

Reviewing two separate sets of appeals from cockfighters
convicted under indictments resulting from the same investigation,
the three-judge panel in U.S. v. Gibert affirmed the convictions of
Jeffrey Brian Gibert, John Carlton Thurman Hoover, Michael Monroe
Grooms, and Gene Audry Jeffcoat for participating in cockfighting
derbies held at Swansea, South Carolina in July 2008 and April 2009.
In U.S. v. Lawson the appellate panel upheld the convictions
of four defendants, but ordered new trials for defendants Scott
Lawson and Wayne Peeler.
“The reversal was due to juror misconduct in the form of
online research,” explained University of Dayton School of Law
associate professor Thaddeus Hoffmeis-ter of the lengthy and often
quite technical Lawson ruling. “Specifically,” Hoffmeister
continued, “a juror, after a day of deliberations, went home and
researched the term ‘sponsor’ on Wikipedia. ‘Sponsor’ was an element
of the animal fighting statute that the defendants were accused
of violating. The juror also brought the results of his research to
the jury room and shared the material with other jurors.” This
violated the instruction to jurors that they were not to consider
information about the case which had not been presented in court.
Gibert and codefendants argued that the Commerce Clause,
Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, cannot
properly be interpreted as allowing federal intervention in animal
“Gibert contends that animal fighting is inherently an
intrastate activity that has no substantial affect on interstate
commerce and thus is a matter reserved for regulation by the states,
rather than by the federal government,” summarized Circuit Judge
Barbara Milano Keenan for the panel.
Keenan noted that “In enacting the animal fighting statute,
Congress initially focused its concern on dogfighting,” but
addressed cockfighting as well in updates of the original statute,
especially in 2007.
“The animal fighting statute has been amended and expanded
since its passage in 1976 to reflect the increasing national
consensus against this activity,” Keenam wrote. “In strengthening
the animal fighting prohibition, members of Congress have emphasized
the nexus between animal fighting and interstate commerce. For
instance, in connection with the 2007 amendments to the animal
fighting statute that made a violation of the statute a felony,
Senator Maria Cantwell of the State of Washington recognized the
connection between animal fighting and the spread of costly and
dangerous diseases,” notably the H5N1 avian influenza and exotic
Newcastle disease, a fungal infection.
The Cantwell statement, incorporated into U.S. v. Lawson,
paraphrased information presented in the first six sentences of the
March 2004 page one ANIMAL PEOPLE article “Cockfighters spread Asian
killer bird flu,” adding updated economic data from the World Bank
and the Congressional Budget Office.
“The very definition of ‘animal fighting venture’ in the
statute suggests economic activity,” Keenan continued. Indeed, the
uncontested factual allegations of the present case also demonstrate
the economic activities inherently involved in cockfighting:
individuals paid a fee to enter their birds into the derby, the
owner of the winning bird won the ‘pot’ of the collective money paid
by the entrants, minus any money retained by the derby organizers,
and spectators and bird owners paid an admission fee to enter the
building in which the birds fought. Additionally, we observe that the
economic aspects of cockfighting are evident from statements to
Congress made by a representative of the United Gamefowl Breeders
Association, an organization that advocated against certain recent
amendments to the animal fighting statute. Jerry Leber, president
of the UGBA, testified before Congress in 2007 that ‘the total value
of the gamefowl industry to the economy of the United States is a
staggering total of $2 billion to $6 billion annually.’
“In conclusion,” Keenan wrote, “we hold that the animal
fighting statute prohibits activities that substantially affect
interstate commerce and, thus, is a legitimate exercise of
Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.”

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