Animal Rights Activist Pays the Price of Grand Jury Resistance 

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click to enlarge Jordan Halliday
  • Jordan Halliday

This month, 14 peace activists from the Midwest had their homes raided and property seized by the FBI before receiving subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury. Citing their innocence and beliefs that federal law-enforcement agents are intentionally disrupting their lawful political activities, all of those activists have said they will not testify. To see what consequences may follow, grand jury resisters can look at 23-year-old Salt Lake City animal-rights activist Jordan Halliday, who may return to prison for a second time after invoking his Fifth Amendment right.

Halliday was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in February 2009. He appeared in court, but declined to answer questions. Federal prosecutors were seeking information related to two mink releases at farms in Kaysville and South Jordan in the summer of 2008. Two Utah men in their 20s, citing allegiance to the Animal Liberation Front, have pleaded guilty to one of those releases—court documents indicate prosecutors believe they were involved in both—and are now serving prison sentences of about two years each.

Like the Midwest peace activists, lifelong Utahn Halliday believes federal prosecutors are targeting him not to prosecute actual crimes but to disrupt the local animal-rights community. He says it is related to his outspoken support form nonviolent criminal activities aimed at freeing animals, even activities that are illegal.

Related: Animal Rights Activists Fight For Their Own Rights

“I was never involved in any underground Animal Liberation Front activities,” Halliday says. “I just happened to be an outspoken, above-ground, animal-rights activist in Utah. We had been doing a lot more demonstrations lately, drawing both the government’s and the media’s eyes toward us. I don’t think there’s any reason that they subpoenaed me besides to possibly set an example to others.”

Halliday says he endorses mink releases as a means of animal liberation, but does not engage in those activities himself. Like many others, he sees animal liberation as akin to the Underground Railroad; illegal activity that history may judge to be more moral than legal acquiescence.

He served 103 days in jail in 2009 until the expiration of the grand jury. He was released and shortly thereafter charged with criminal contempt of court. Halliday was a principal organizer of the local Animal Defense League chapter, but his pretrial-release condition forbade him from engaging in activism.
So, in essence, prosecutors want to again imprison Halliday for his silence—this time for 15 to 21 months—a move his attorney Steven Killpack calls “highly unusual” in court documents because the mink releasers themselves faced a similar penalty. Halliday believes the Fifth Amendment should protect him, but it doesn’t; The Fifth Amendment protects individuals only against self-incrimination; if prosecutors offer immunity to a grand jury witness—as they did for Halliday—the Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply. But it’s more complicated than that.

Halliday worries that if a grand-jury witness provides incriminating information against someone else, that other person may provide information—true or not, perhaps in exchange for leniency—right back. And while the original grand-jury witness may not be prosecuted with information that he or she provided to the grand jury under immunity, he may be prosecuted with testimony obtained from others. It’s a vicious circle, Halliday says, that has been used to disrupt social movements before—most notably during the COINTELPRO era of the 1970s, which the FBI acknowledges—and Halliday and others complain that it’s happening again, prompting many activists nationwide to join in solidarity in opposition to grand juries.

A U.S. Inspector General report released in September found that left-leaning activists groups were improperly targeted by the FBI, in many cases based on flimsy evidence and for lengths of time that violated FBI policy. None of the cases investigated by the Inspector General were specific to Utah, however.

Related: Watch Democracy Now! interview targets of the Midwest grand jury

For their part, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City said through a spokesperson that the grand jury has “broad investigative powers.” In an e-mailed statement, the spokesperson did not respond to allegations that the grand jury is being used to disrupt legal political activities.

Salt Lake City bookstore clerk and barista Kristina McIntyre supports Halliday’s resistance. She and Halliday know each other from attending the same protests. She says that animal-rights activism can become discouraging and “hardening,” but that Halliday is “so sweet and nice.” She also distrusts the government, and believes prosecutors are trying to intimidate other activists by incarcerating Halliday. “If it’s peace activists and animal-rights activists that need investigating, what is the structure being protected?” she asks. “The society I want to live in would have a different set of enemies.”
Halliday’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Below, the document written by Halliday's attorneys argues he should receive only probation as a penalty for his criminal conviction.

Halliday Defense Sentencing Memorandum

Update 10-20-10 6:05 p.m.: here is the entire statement received from the U.S. Attorney's office in Salt Lake City, the same statement referred to above:

A grand jury has broad investigative powers to determine whether a crime has been committed and who committed it. While it has broad investigative power, its power is not unlimited and it is subject to the supervision of a judge. In addition, the type of evidence government attorneys present is subject to limitations (one example is constitutional privilege). Some matters heard by the grand jury are summary in nature and others involve longer-term investigations. While it depends on the nature of the case, in carrying out its investigative responsibilities to inquire into the existence of possible criminal conduct and return well-founded indictments, a grand jury may receive extensive evidence and hear from numerous witnesses.

On March 4, 2009, William James Viehl and Alex Jason Hall were indicted on two counts of animal enterprise terrorism in connection with an August 19, 2008, attack on the McMullin mink farm and an October 19, 2008, attempt to damage the Mathews mink farm. As the district court record reflects, Jordan Halliday was one of the witnesses who appeared before the grand jury during its investigation. The record also reflects that despite being ordered by a district judge that he must testify, Halliday refused to testify without just cause. His actions resulted in the grand jury returning an indictment for contempt of court.

Mr. Halliday pleaded guilty to contempt of court in July, admitting that he willfully and knowingly disobeyed and resisted a lawful order of the United States District Court directly ordering him to testify in a matter occurring before the grand jury. During the plea hearing, as the record reflects, he admitted he refused to answer questions before the grand jury without just cause or excuse or a valid legal privilege.

Update 10-21-10 4:49 p.m.: Supporters are organizing a rally on the day of Halliday's sentencing. For more information, go to http://www.supportjordan.com .

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