Many of you may have been following the most recent publicized animal cruelty case in New York involving a cat. As one report puts it, “He was a strapping ex-athlete in steel-toed boots. His nemesis was an 8-pound cat.” Indeed, this story is not only localized, it continues to draw national coverage. After 5 days of deliberations, the 12 panel jurors had one hold out. This juror refused to accept that the defendant intentionally killed Norman, the beloved cat of his girlfriend. So the end result is a hung jury leaving the District Attorney the decision of whether to proceed with another trial. As Matt Lauer, host of the Today show puts it, “we will continue to follow what happens with this case.” Many of you probably are wondering why the government would go after this “cat killer” with such vengeance. The defendant faced up to two years state prison and would have been convicted of felony animal cruelty. After many years of working as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney, I can unequivocally state that a defendant in an animal cruelty case will not get sympathy from the prosecution and the general public.
Another high profile case is the Michael Vick dog fighting case that involved the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. In 2007, a U.S. federal district court convicted him and several co-defendants of criminal conspiracy resulting from felonious dog fighting. The judge sentenced him to serve a 23-month prison sentence. He is being held in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. He is also under indictment for two related Virginia state felony charges for his role in the dog fighting ring and related gambling activity. His state trial has been delayed until he is released from federal prison. He faces a maximum 10-year state prison term if convicted on both counts.
Animal cruelty cases are taken very seriously by the criminal courts. This is especially heightened by the public outcry and the involvement of animal rights organizations such as the ASPCA or PETA. These groups actively bring forth legislations which makes such crimes severely punishable and prosecuted as felonies.
When I was a District Attorney is Los Angeles, I had a 13 defendant cockfighting case. Yes, 13—all defendants represented by an attorney and all needing a court certified interpreter. To say, that it was a “zoo” is an understatement. However, all parties involved took this case very seriously. All defense attorneys joined in bringing forth search and seizure motions. I had a Los Angeles sheriff expert in the area of cockfighting who educated all the attorneys and the judge of the tactics, paraphernalia and the procedures used in cockfighting.
This “sport” is highly objectionable to many, such as bull-fighting. Notwithstanding your stance on these types of sports, the end result in California is that if you are caught as the so called “ringleader” of the fights, you will be charged with a felony, punishable by imprisonment in state prison and/or be fined a maximum of $20,000. If you are a spectator, you can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Animal cruelty does not only mean “actively” injuring an animal. It could also mean failure to care, abandonment or neglect for the animal. Depending on the severity of the injuries, the prosecution can either file it as a felony or a misdemeanor charge.
Many individuals take such crimes lightly, but trust me, this is a mistake. If you are charged with animal cruelty, you walk in the courtroom with no friends on your side. It also would be a mistake to think that the prosecutor will let you “get off easily.” As I stated before, these types of crimes evoke passion and outright dislike for the defendant. As such, hiring an attorney that can diffuse such passions should be a priority.