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Faunalytics analyzed transcripts from interviews with jurors of the Smithfield Foods criminal trial—in which two animal rights activists were found not guilty of “stealing” two piglets from a factory farm in Utah. This qualitative analysis will help advocates understand why jurors sided with the defense, how to potentially apply these findings to future trials, and what forms of animal activism are most convincing. 

https://faunalytics.org/smithfield-trial-juror-analysis 

Key Findings:

  1. The “not guilty” verdict hinged, in part, on the monetary value of the piglets to Smithfield, which was argued to be less than zero. The piglets required veterinary care that exceeded their value to Smithfield. The jury was initially hesitant to say the piglets had no worth because they saw them as having inherent worth as living beings, however they ultimately decided the theft charges hinged on monetary value only. 
  2. The jury members believed the defendants, Wayne and Paul, did not have the intent to steal. Before their investigation of the Smithfield facility, Wayne said on video “if there’s something we’ll take it.” The jury interpreted the “if” as meaning the two activists did not enter the facility knowing they’d have the opportunity to take piglets. However, one juror noted that if the defendants had a pattern of doing this in the past, the jury might have been more likely to find them guilty. 
  3. The participants all reported being more receptive to animal advocacy and animal welfare after the trial. One participant reported that they no longer eat ham. Another reported that while they still believe that pigs are here to be eaten, as a result of the trial they now believe that pig welfare should be improved. Another was even inspired to pursue animal activism. 
  4. Despite what media coverage indicates, the “right to rescue” was not a major factor in the jury’s decision. Some media outlets (such as The Intercept and Democracy Now!) have characterized this trial as a test case for the “right to rescue” argument—the idea that one should be able to rescue animals, sometimes farmed animals, from distressing conditions. However, only two jurors mentioned this concept at all, and no jurors mentioned this idea as critical. 

Background

The Smithfield Trial refers to the prosecution of two animal advocates who were charged with felony theft and burglary after they removed two piglets from a Smithfield Foods facility in Utah, United States. 

Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, a co-founder and member of Direct Action Everywhere, respectively, are activists “working to achieve revolutionary social and political change for animals in one generation.” In 2017, Wayne and Paul entered the Circle Four Farms facility in Milford, Utah, and removed two injured piglets (later named Lily and Lizzie). Circle Four Farms is one of the largest industrial pig processing facilities in the United States and a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, which is the world’s largest pork producer. Once rescued, the piglets were provided with veterinary care and relocated to a sanctuary where they currently reside. The removal of the piglets was filmed and posted on social media under the title “Operation Deathstar.” 

In September 2022, Wayne and Paul went on trial in Washington County, Utah on charges of felony theft and burglary for removing the piglets. They were acquitted (i.e., found not guilty) by a jury on both counts. 

This trial may interest animal advocates because it provides potential guidance for future trials and investigations. Additionally, this analysis provides insight as to which pro-animal arguments are more persuasive more generally. 

In this study, we analyzed themes from interviews with five Smithfield Trial jury members (referred to below as “participants”) in order to determine which arguments jurors found most convincing and what lessons animal advocates can learn from this case. All results are drawn from the juror interviews as we did not examine trial testimony, evidence, or statements.

Research Team

The project’s analyst and lead author was Fiona Rowles, while Dr. Jo Anderson reviewed and oversaw the work, with writing support from Björn Jóhann Olafsson. Dr. Justin Marceau designed and conducted the interviews with participants, and kindly shared the data with Faunalytics for the purpose of this analysis.

Conclusions

Criminal trials regarding activists allegedly stealing animals from factory farms are increasingly common and are even attracting media attention. Some advocates believe these trials may be a valuable tool for farmed animal advocacy and law reform projects more generally. This study examined interviews from five jurors of one such case, Smithfield Foods, to examine why they ultimately sided with the defendants, not the farm. 

Jury participants said they remember believing the animal activists were obviously guilty at the beginning of the trial. However, the jury was ultimately convinced by the evidence that Wayne and Paul were not guilty of the theft of two piglets. 

Two facts were key: the monetary value of the piglets and the rescuers’ stated intentions. 

The prosecution first needed to show that the piglets were worth a significant amount of money: over $1,500 for a felony theft. The jury did not believe this to be the case. In fact, they believed the piglets were worth less than zero dollars when veterinary care was factored in.

The prosecution also needed to prove that the activists had an intention to steal prior to entering the facility. Based on video evidence in which Wayne said that he would take an animal “if [they] saw something” the jury believed there was no intention to steal. 

Additionally, the defense was viewed as credible and respectful, while the prosecution was considered to be condescending, both to the jury and to the piglets. 

Despite the “right to rescue” argument being credited in media outlets as the reason for acquittal, the jurors tended not to identify this argument by that name as having impacted the outcome. Further research should consider how the right to rescue framing can impact the way the public perceives the “theft” of farmed animals. 

During the trial, Wayne said, “I don't actually want you to acquit us on a legal technicality. I want you to acquit us as a matter of conscience. There's a big difference between stealing and rescue.” However, the participants in this study stated they relied on legal arguments when making their decision. It is also possible they were morally convinced by Wayne’s moral appeal, and subsequently looked for a legal hook with which to acquit him. 

Two of the five participants did make comments supportive of the “right to rescue” theory, which indicates that future juries may be open to this idea. However, it remains to be seen if the “right to rescue” can be expressed clearly in a legal setting. 

All participants reported that they now viewed animal activists or animal welfare more broadly, in a more positive light after sitting for the trial. One participant had stopped eating ham and another was even interested in contributing to animal advocacy. Therefore, trials may be an important venue for advocates presenting their cause to everyday people. While juries themselves are small, these trials attract media attention that reach large audiences. Also, wins for animal advocates may indirectly influence future court cases.

Unlike other forms of advocacy, jury trials are measured, slow, and don’t rely on emotional appeals. Jurors are explicitly instructed to review all the evidence with an open mind. This gives advocates a wide-open platform with which to explain their point of view towards animals, which proved influential toward jurors in this case. 

However, after the trial, some jurors went online and were dismayed by prejudicial comments left by animal welfare activists about them. This may have decreased the positive impact the trial could have had on their opinions, attitudes, or behavior towards animal welfare. Advocates should always be respectful of others, engaging without assumptions or undue criticism, to maximize their chances of persuasion. 


 

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