Pennsylvania Makes Ecoterrorism A Criminal Offense
Pennsylvania has passed a law that amends the state’s criminal code to include the offense of ecoterrorism.
Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell said the state will be better able to protect people from intimidation and natural resources from unlawful acts of desecration with the new offense on the books. He signed the bill into law in April and it will take effect in mid-June.
Upon signing the bill, Rendell said, “In the last decade our nation has witnessed an increasing number of costly and dangerous acts of destruction of property – in the name of animal rights or environmental protection. Most of these protests are lodged against pharmaceutical and other companies that are in the business of developing new medicines to provide treatments and cures for deadly diseases.”
“Those who oppose animal research certainly have the right to use the political process to express their views,” the governor said. “But if they intentionally destroy property as part of their protest they should be charged accordingly for any property crimes they have committed. These persons should receive additional punishment because their conduct is intended to intimidate and stop lawful activities.”
“Destroying property, intimidating Pennsylvania residents or illegally confiscating animals as a way of political protest will not be tolerated in Pennsylvania,” said the governor.
Rendell said that in considering this bill, he met with animal rights activists who shared with him their concern for their free speech rights. “This bill does not infringe upon those rights,” he said.
Those in favor of this bill gave specific examples of property destruction that the governor found to be compelling reasons to sign the legislation.
“One telling example comes from W.B. Saul Agricultural High School in southeast Pennsylvania,” said Rendell. “This public high school has been targeted by militant animal rights activists who have not stopped at peaceful protest, but who have vandalized the school, stealing animals and destroying property.”
Rendell was referring to an incident in April 2004 when 48 animals were stolen from the school in Roxborough, near Philadelphia, the largest agricultural high school in America. Dogs, gerbils, chinchillas, hamsters, rats, mice and a ferret were taken. “Go experiment on yourselves We’re free – the animals,” was spray-painted on the school’s dog kennel.
“That conduct is not protected speech,” the governor said.
In Pennsylvania, ecoterrorism now is defined as a person committing one of a number of “specified offenses against property” with the intent to intimidate or coerce another individual lawfully participating in an activity which involves animals, plants, or natural resources.
Specified offenses include certain arson offenses, causing or risking catastrophe, criminal mischief, institutional vandalism, agricultural vandalism, agricultural crop destruction, burglary if committed in order to commit another specified offense, criminal trespass if the crime is committed in order to threaten or terrorize the owner or occupant of the premises.
The law stiffens penalties for these offenses if they are committed as acts of ecoterrorism. A person who is found guilty of ecoterrorism will be ordered to pay restitution in an amount up to triple the value of the damages incurred as a result of the specified offense.
The bill also provides that a person exercising his right of freedom of petition or freedom of speech under the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Pennsylvania on public property or with the permission of the landowner and is peaceably demonstrating or exercising those rights is immune from prosecution or civil liability for ecoterrorism.
Under the new law, a person aggrieved by an act of ecoterrorism may now sue for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and litigation expenses. The aggrieved party may also petition for injunctive relief, in which case the court may issue a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunctions, or permanent injunction.
Provided by the Environmental News Service.