By Gillian Lyons
As an all purpose animal law blog, it seems appropriate to give our readers a rundown of some recent key jurisprudence dealing with cruelty towards domestic animals. These are a few cruelty related cases decided by state courts in the last three months.
Virginia: In a recent decision, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a misdemeanor cruelty conviction against a president of a horse rescue organization. The charge against defendant was based on her failure to provide necessary emergency veterinary treatment. Defendant claimed she was unaware of the horse’s grave condition, but expert testimony led the court to believe the condition was not only obvious for at least 48 hours before the horse’s death, but readily observable for weeks prior. The court thus affirmed the trial court which had found the Defendant guilty and sentenced her to twelve months in jail, with six months suspended on conditions of good behavior and “no possession of horses” for 24 months.
Pennsylvania: The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently issued a decision upholding almost $170,000 in administrative penalties, issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, against a former kennel operator. Petitioner, former operator of “Almost Heaven Kennels,” had sought renewal permits from the Department’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to operate kennels within the state. Both permits were rejected by the Department based on previous and pending animal cruelty conviction charges.
In response to Petitioner’s renewal request, the Department issued a Refusal Order demanding that Petitioner acquire no additional dogs, and that he cease and desist operating the kennel. For Petitioner’s failure to abide by the order, he was charged almost 170,000 in penalties.
Petitioner appealed the penalties as excessive under the Eighth Amendment, but the Commonwealth Court disagreed with this argument and affirmed the penalties as reasonable.
Connecticut: In October the Appellate Court of Connecticut ruled that evidence of animal cruelty seized by a police officer during a warrantless search of Defendant’s residence was inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment. The Officer, following up on complaints by Defendant’s neighbors relating to the Defendant’s treatment of his dogs, had approached Defendant’s residence when he noticed an overflowing mailbox, deplorable sanitary conditions, and an overwhelming smell of dog feces. He also heard barking dogs and saw them roaming the premise.
Fearing for the safety of the animals, and their owner, he entered the home and found 21 beagles (“in bad shape.”) The District Court had previously held that the entry was appropriate under an exception to warrantless entry in the case of emergency.
The Appellate Court disagreed. Observing the evidence, the Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence that would have led a well-trained officer to believe that emergency entry was necessary to assist a person. The condition of the animals did not warrant emergency exception. Instead, the situation was such that the officer should have applied for a warrant to search the premises for evidence of animal cruelty.
Texas: In September the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed a dog fighting conviction. At the trial court level, the jury convicted the Defendant of a second degree felony, punishable by 7 years in prison, for intentionally causing a dog to fight with another dog. In the appeal, Defendant challenged the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence against him.
During trial court proceedings, there was testimony of a witness who heard Defendant say to another man “I bet you $100 my dog kills your dog” and testimony of two officers who witnessed Defendant holding the chain of a brown pit bill who was attacking another dog. Further testimony from animal control officers noted that there were fresh wounds present on both dogs. While Defendant had testified that he was simply trying to separate his dog from the other dog, the Court of Appeals noted that it was well within the jury’s purview to disbelieve his testimony. Believing that the weight of the testimony was sufficient to establish that Defendant intentionally caused a dog to fight with another dog, the Co