Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, affiliated activists facing felony and misdemeanor charges are still under a gag order after calls to vacate the order from the American Civil Liberties Union and Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Defendants Priya Sawhney and Wayne Hsiung are accused of felony conspiracy to commit trespassing and misdemeanor trespassing after demonstrations and removal of chickens and ducks from Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck farm in 2018 and 2019.
Former defendant Cassandra King had all charges against her dropped Sept. 8.
“It’s infuriating that the DA’s office held serious charges over me for nearly five years, and then dropped them all on the first day of trial without a word of explanation,” King alleged in an email. “It’s vastly more infuriating that they still haven’t addressed the real crimes: factory farm companies leaving sick, injured animals to slowly starve to death. I’m left to think my prosecution was purely about preventing me from helping more animals, and never about justice at all.”
On Wednesday, Judge Laura Passaglia granted the defense’s motion to use the “mistake of law” defense — which contends that defendants misunderstood or were ignorant of the law — with regard to California Penal Code 597e, according to a DxE press release.
According to the defense, this statute allows citizens to enter private property to assist impounded animals who have not been provided food or water for more than 12 consecutive hours.
Passaglia also allowed the defense to use the “mistake of fact” defense, which arises when defendants honestly and reasonably misunderstand a fact that affects the crime, for the Sunrise Farms charges. According to the press release, the defendants did not believe that they were being told to leave the farm.
However, DxE press coordinator Alison Morikawa Barnard said Passaglia ruled against the use of the necessity defense, questioning what the limits of this defense would be if applied to nonhuman animals.
The farms have been ordered to produce animal welfare documents for the judge when court resumes Wednesday.
Campus junior and DxE social media coordinator Zoe Rosenberg said she was involved in the removal of animals from Reichardt and Sunrise and is currently a sequestered witness in the trial.
Rosenberg was also present at two past cases in which DxE was involved. She emphasized the importance of sharing the stories of animals removed from farms in each of the cases.
“As a witness … I hope that I’ll be able to testify to the sickness of the ducklings and the hens who are rescued,” Rosenberg said. “I think that’s essential information for the jury to hear, and I hope the judge allows that information to be heard.”