Thirty Years in Prison for Photographing Farm Animals?
A Florida state senator has introduced a bill that would punish the unauthorized photographing of farms with up to 30 years in prison.
State Senator Jim Norman (R-12) has introduced SB 1246. Under the bill, the following activities would be deemed first-degree felonies:
- Entering onto a farm or other property where agricultural operations are being carried out without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
- Photographing, video recording, or otherwise producing images or pictorial records of “legitimate agriculture operations” without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
The bill defines a farm as “any tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising or breeding of domestic animals, or the storage of a commodity.”
Felony Trespass on a Farm
Under the plain language of the proposed law, simply entering onto a farm without written permission could land a person in prison for up to 30 years. Compare this proposed legislation with other statutory provisions dealing with trespass.
Chapter 810 of the Florida Statutes deals with burglary and trespass. Section 810.08 forbids the willful trespass in a structure or conveyance; § 801.09 addresses trespass on property other than a structure or conveyance; and § 810.095 deals with trespass on school property with a firearm or other weapon.
Sections 810.08 through 810.095 provide various penalties for trespass depending upon the circumstances. For example, ordinary trespass on property that is not a structure or conveyance is a first degree misdemeanor. Armed trespass in a structure, conveyance, or on property, including school property, is a third degree felony.
The key difference between SB 1246 and these other Florida trespass statutes is that the other trespass statutes require that, in order to be punishable as a crime, the trespass must be “willful.”
Florida courts have consistently held that the term “willful” means “intentional, knowing, and purposeful.” Thus, there is no requirement in the proposed bill that the person entering onto a farm do so intentionally, knowingly and purposefully. There is no requirement that a person intend to trespass on the farm. Simply stepping onto farm property without the written permission of the owner or authorized representative could land a person in prison for up to 30 years.
Photographing or Video Recording of “Legitimate” Agricultural Operations
The photographs you see here were taken from the side of State Road 56 in Pasco County. They contain images of grazing cattle in the fields of the beautiful Wiregrass Ranch (what is left of it).
I took these photographs myself a few days ago, without obtaining the written authorization of the owners or the authorized representatives of the ranch. If SB 1246 passes, after July 1, 2011, such behavior on my part could lead to a first degree felony conviction and up to 30 years in prison.
What is the Purpose Behind SB 1246?
As yet, no Staff Analysis has been published explaining the purpose behind SB 1246. In a recent article, the Florida Tribune quoted Wilton Simpson, a farmer living in Senator Norman’s district, as saying that the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” of farm operations.
There is nothing in the plain language of the bill, however, that requires a person have any intent whatsoever, much less an intent to violate the farm owner’s property rights or “intellectual property” involving farm operations. The bill, as it was introduced, would very clearly outlaw my act of snapping a few pictures of farm animals even if my only intent in doing so was to give expression to a vision of the vanishing Florida pasture land.
As a constituent of Senator Norman’s, I contacted his office seeking clarification on the purpose and meaning of this bill. At this time, I have not received a reply.
Senator Jim Norman can be contacted at (813) 265-6260 or (850) 487-5068. His e-mail address is email@example.com.