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Criminal defense: Iowa "ag-gag" laws

People in Iowa know that agricultural production has been one of the most important staples of the state's economy for many decades, and this continues to be true today. For that reason, Iowa lawmakers have sometimes afforded Iowa farmers, ranchers, processors and other food-producing entities special privileges that other people simply do not get. While most people may not have a problem with granting agricultural producers tax breaks and financial incentives, many constitutional scholars and defense attorneys say that lawmakers have gone too far in passing laws that criminalize recording video or audio footage at such agricultural facilities.

Under the Iowa law, sometimes referred to as the "ag-gag" law, any person who makes an unauthorized recording of or on the property of an agricultural or food producer may face serious criminal charges. This law, critics argue, seriously compromises people's first amendment rights, and penalizes an activity which should be legal in almost any other context. Agricultural producers who support the law say that it is necessary to keep people from exposing or misrepresenting their business practices to the public, many of whom may be concerned about the ethics or cleanliness of their operations.

Opponents of ag-gag laws say that it hinders free speech and keeps the public in the dark about something they have a right to know about. In many other contexts, whistleblowers and those who expose corrupt or dangerous business practices are rewarded, so why should those responsible for providing food for Americans be protected against whistleblowers?

Such ag-gag laws have been challenged in most of the 25 states which have some version of them, and in most of these states, appeals against the constitutionality of such laws have been successful. People convicted of ag-gag violations may face jail time and hefty fines. In addition, a criminal conviction can have long-term consequences. The conviction becomes part of a person's record and may limit their ability to land a job down the road. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help people defend against allegations and challenge laws which infringe on their constitutional rights.

Source: AgriNews, "'Ag-gag' laws challenged in court," Sept. 22, 2014

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