Utah is the only state in the Western U.S. where cockfighting is still only a misdemeanor--not a felony. This could make it a magnet for cockfighting operations because the current penalty is almost inconsequential compared to the potential earnings from this brutal, but popular, “blood sport.”
Other states, such as California, have passed stringent laws which treat cockfighting as a “wobbler,” meaning that, after the first conviction and/or under certain circumstances, it can be charged as a felony.
The Utah Senate Judiciary/Law/Criminal Justice Committee just passed Senate Bill 52, Game Fowl Fighting Amendments (G. Davis – D) to toughen Utah's anti-cockfighting laws, and this measure will likely be discussed on the Utah Senate floor before the end of this week.
SB 52 proposes that Utah’s Criminal Code be modified to provide that (1) game fowl fighting and specified related acts would become third degree felonies; and (2) being a spectator at a game fowl fight would become a class B misdemeanor. It also contains provisions regarding training roosters (game fowl) for fighting.
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The dangers of the cockfighting industry expanding in Utah go far beyond just the brutality of this atavistic “sport,” in which knives are attached to the feet of roosters and they are forced to fight to their deaths in a pit while greedy gamblers watch.
Cockfighting, like other blood sports, attracts into vulnerable and unsuspecting communities a criminal element that derives pleasure from the suffering and death of animals. Cockfights are also associated with many other unlawful activities, including gambling, drugs and human trafficking, and often illegal gun sales.
Spectators are the major gamblers at cockfights and often bring young children to watch the events, exposing them to violence and desensitizing them to cruelty towards animals—and possibly towards humans.
Because of the seriousness and pervasiveness of cockfighting, here is a summary of the California penalties for participants and spectators which became effective on Jan. 1, 2013, under Penal Code Section 597b(a):
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1. The first offense for cockfighting is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or by a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
2. A subsequent conviction can be either a misdemeanor or a felony punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year or the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years, and by a fine not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by both.
3. To knowingly be present as a spectator at any exhibition of animal fighting is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed six months, or by a fine of five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both.
It is hoped that the Utah Senate will take seriously the possible negative impact of not bringing Utah into line with other states. Only ten states in the entire nation do not have felony laws for cockfighting.
The Humane Society of Utah is encouraging residents of Utah to contact their senators directly or through its website. and urge the passage of SB 52 to bring Utah sufficiently into line with other states that it will not risk becoming a mecca for cockfighters.