News of the WeekAnimal-Rights Activism

A Tricky Balance Between Activists' and Researchers' Rights

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1589-1590
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5999.1589

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Last November, federal prosecutors charged Scott DeMuth, a sociology graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, with felony conspiracy in connection with a 2004 break-in at an animal research lab at the University of Iowa. DeMuth's trial was scheduled to begin last week, but at the last minute prosecutors offered him a plea agreement: They would drop all charges related to the Iowa case if he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor conspiracy charge for an unspecified role in a 2006 break-in at a ferret-breeding facility in Minnesota. DeMuth took the deal and now faces up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $5000, considerably lighter penalties than he could have received if convicted of the felony. DeMuth's case and others highlight the difficulty of identifying the small minority of animal-rights activists who break the law and successfully prosecuting those who are charged.