HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge reduced the number of charges against a man and woman accused of making animal snuff films, finding that a new law prohibiting depictions of animal injury unconstitutionally restricts free speech.
A federal grand jury issued a seven-count indictment against Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice on Nov. 28, 2012.
Among other criminal charges, Richards and Justice faced four counts of creating and one count of distributing "animal crush videos:" videos depicting bodily injury to animals.
Richards and Justice were already in jail on state charges when they were indicted federally.
The eight videos listed in the indictment "involve puppies, chickens and kittens being tortured and killed," the Department of Justice said in a statement.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Wednesday dismissed the five animal crush counts against Richards and Justice.
The federal law prohibiting depictions of animal injury took effect in December 2010, after the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Stevens that the previous statute was too broad, Lake wrote in his 23-page order.
Lake found that like its predecessor, the new statute is overly broad and unconstitutional.
"The acts depicted in animal crush videos are disturbing and horrid," Lake wrote. But he said they do not constitute obscenity or speech integral to criminal conduct, as the government argued, and the protection of the First Amendment still applies.
Richards and Justice still face charges of violating two federal obscenity statutes.
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