Drop Charges Against Scott Demuth!

TO: U.S. District Judge John Jarvey, U.S. Attorney Nicholas Kleinfeldt, and U.S. Attorney Cliff Cronk WE THE UNDERSIGNED hereby petition the above dignitaries for immediate exoneration of Scott Demuth, and moreover, express our desire to preserve academic freedom and integrity, as well as our concern over the AETA. RELEVANT FACTS: On November 17, 2009, Scott DeMuth was jailed for contempt of court, since he refused to answer questions posed to him by a federal grand jury in Davenport, Iowa. They were interested in questioning him about his knowledge of an unsolved Animal Liberation Front action in 2004 at the University of Iowa. At the time, Scott was only 17 years old and was a resident of the Twin Cities (Minnesota). Scott is a University of Minnesota graduate student and Dakota language student whose research focuses on liberation struggles and social movements in the U.S. and globally. In his work, he has researched and/or interviewed numerous activists from Native American struggles for sovereignty and land, and environmental and animal liberation movements in the U.S. The grand jury was interested in asking him to divulge the names of activists, which would violate the confidentiality agreements that he made with his research participants. Scott took a principled stand against the grand jury's fishing expedition, and instead decided to go to jail rather than be party to what many attorneys and the American Bar Association (ABA) view as a dangerous practice that deprives people of basic constitutional freedoms. But it gets worse. Two days later (November 19, 2009) Scott was charged with conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006. This indictment came just one day before the 5-year statute of limitations was to expire. Attorneys have speculated the indictment was rushed through to freeze the statute of limitations, with the intent of buying them time to issue a future indictment. These legal maneuvers are indicative of an investigation that has gone nowhere, and prosecutors who are desperate to locate members of the Animal Liberation Front, no matter what legal acrobatics are required. REGARDING GRAND JURIES: The federal grand jury is a legal proceeding used to investigate possible organized criminal activity rather than a specific crime. It is held in secrecy, and does not grant rights to representation or the right to obtain transcripts of the proceedings to those subpoenaed: those served with a subpoena face only a federal prosecutor and 16-23 jurors who are not screened for bias. Federal grand juries are used not to prove guilt, but to coercively extract evidence without due process from third parties under threat of imprisonment. They have a history of being used to intimidate and suppress movements for social change. REGARDING SCHOLARLY RIGHTS: The American Sociological Association's Code of Ethics states: Section 11.01: "Sociologists have an obligation to protect confidential information and not allow information gained in confidence from being used in ways that would unfairly compromise research participants, students, employees, clients, or others." Section 11.06: "Sociologists do not disclose confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their research participants, other recipients of their service which is obtained during the course of their work." This scholar-research participant confidentiality is the bedrock of academic research and without it the public would lose trust in scholars seeking important information (concerning, for example, social histories or institutional discrimination practices), leading to the incalculable loss of invaluable data for community preservation, public policy, and university teaching purposes. Scott is being charged with conspiracy for invoking his constitutional rights and heeding to professional codes of conduct. REGARDING THE AETA: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a 2006 law that uses sweeping language to criminalize 'interfering with animal enterprises. Despite assurances about safe guarding constitutional rights, the AETA has, in practice, been used to repress free speech such as leafletting and sidewalk chalking. The AETA is a frightening expansion of an already expansive piece of legislation, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The AETA is opposed by more than 160 organizations and countless individuals. The opposition includes such influential groups as the National Lawyers Guild, American Civil Liberties Union (belatedly), New York City Bar Association and other bar associations, Natural Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of the U.S., and American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The AETA: - is excessively broad and vague and imposes disproportionately harsh penalties - brands animal advocates as "terrorists" and denies them equal protection under the law - brands civil disobedience as "terrorism" and imposes severe penalties - has a chilling effect on all forms of protest by endangering free speech and assembly - interferes with investigation of federal law violations by animal enterprises - detracts from prosecution of real terrorism against the American people The AETA is designed to punish actions that instill a reasonable fear in employees of an animal enterprise, or their families. In its application, the AETA also criminalizes many First Amendment activities, such as picketing, boycotts and undercover investigations of animal abuse if they interfere with an animal enterprise by causing a loss of profits. It unnecessarily expands punishments for crimes that existing federal laws already cover. This law has created a chilling effect on constitutionally protected activities and many activists, scholars, attorneys, and elected officials believe that was the intention. Our goals are simple and direct. We want the judge, prosecutor, and U.S. attorney: 1) to dismiss all charges against Scott, 2) protect academic freedom and integrity, 3) and denounce the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

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Scholars for Academic Justice (SAJ)

Discussion

  • Christine Sistare The current statutory definition of terrorism is absurdly broad. We see the pernicious possibilities for prosecutorial overreach in this case.

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