Federal Appeals Court Upholds Cockfighting Convictions

The Humane Society of the United States hails the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejecting an appeal brought by three defendants convicted of participating in a “sophisticated interstate cockfighting venture” in South Carolina. The trio asked the Court to dismiss the charges against them, claiming that their indictments were based on “selective prosecution” because they are Caucasian. The lower court rejected the claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that there was no evidence that the government’s decision to prosecute was “in bad faith.”  

The three defendants were indicted by federal prosecutors in late 2009 after state and federal authorities conducted a 13-month undercover investigation in South Carolina which netted nearly 60 people who were later charged with illegal cockfighting and gambling.  

“We commend the Court for rejecting this frivolous attempt to evade federal law,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The HSUS. “Cockfighting is a vicious bloodsport, and those who engage in such animal cruelty must be held accountable for their actions.” 

In two related appeals pending before the Court of Appeals, nearly a dozen defendants are also challenging their conviction for cockfighting under the federal law against animal fighting. The defendants contend that the federal law is unconstitutional because cockfighting is allegedly not an interstate activity, despite the fact that the people, birds and equipment involved in the bloodsport routinely cross state lines. Briefing is expected to conclude in the spring. The HSUS intends to file an amicus brief in support of the United States’ prosecution in the case.

 Facts:

  • H 3564 has been introduced this legislative session by Rep. Murrell Smith, R- Sumter, which would make cockfighting a felony in South Carolina.
  • Cockfighting is illegal in every state, and all animal fighting that affects interstate commerce is punishable as a federal felony under the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Common cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression, and fitting their legs with deadly weapons—that is, razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks.

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