Fleecing the Sheep: Alleged Animal Cruelty Charges and the Taking of Our AnimalsA Federal Agency and/or Animal Control/Humane Society/SPCA can easily create animal cruelty charges where none exist. This article is not about the prosecution of non-disputed acts of animal cruelty; this is about the victims of an animal control system that is out of control.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? HINDSIGHT WILL SHOW US THE ANSWERS
The Federal Asset Forfeiture/RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) law of the 1970's was created to fight the war on drugs. However, the original intent of this has been perverted beyond recognition. What we have now is a powerful Law Enforcement monster that feeds itself rather than serve its citizens. Organized crime and drug dealers were the target, and asset forfeiture was meant to destroy the economic base and incentive of such crimes. Law enforcement was given authority to confiscate money and assets, and soon began to do so even if no crime had been committed. Cash and personal property were seized before criminal charges were ever filed.
The Mesa Tribune published some alarming findings regarding Arizona RICO cases from 1990 to 1993: Nearly 3/4ths of people who lost property in forfeiture cases were never charged with a crime About 2/3 of the people whose property was seized had no criminal record 1 out of 6 people whose property was seized was an uninvolved third party (parents, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends etc) More than $4 million in case - 54.8% of that taken - was seized from people who were never charged with a crime. Nine Arizona agencies raised $26.5 million during that time period Keep in mind, these are statistics for ONE STATE for a short THREE YEAR time frame. For more information and horror stories, see The Asset Forfeiture Manual.
RICO ACTIONS ARE CIVIL, not criminal. Unfortunately this difference has resulted in people being judged GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT. The same holds true for animal forfeiture cases. A person attempting to retrieve their property is held to a higher standard of proof than that of the prosecution! The prosecution only has to show a vague and ambiguous probable cause, no greater than what is needed to get a search warrant or enter private property. Anonymous informants, paid or unpaid, can trigger a raid and seizure whether it is for drugs or animals.
Learning from Big Brother
The abuses of asset forfeiture power soon found their way into the state legal systems, and now they have trickled into every county, city and community in the U.S. Though animal cruelty laws are similar from state to state, county to county and city to city, it is best to familiarize yourself with the laws which apply to you. Here are a few examples which I found on the Hounded, Cowed & Badgered blog: Chambers v Justice applied a Texas statute which denies the right to appeal the forfeiture of an abused animal. Since the term "abused animal" could apply to any animal cruelty charge, and since any animal cruelty charge can, and often is based on the subjective opinion of an ACO, this is a dangerous precedent indeed.
Washington Statutes allow the warrantless arrest of someone based on an alleged misdemeanor. Too bad that the punishment meted out is not equally as illusory. Seized animals are held as evidence in cruelty cases and cannot be given to the owner, another organization or person until the case has been adjudicated.
HOWEVER, animals are treated differently than other types of property. Most states have some form of bond requirement that the defendant must post to cover the costs of animal care while the case is heard and tried. These are the bond posting statutes for Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The Best Defense: Know the Enemy, Learn their Strategies
The below information is a good place to begin. A defense attorney who knows the strategy of the prosecutor will be that much closer to countering it.
HSUS Model Animal Cruelty Investigation Manual. Created by the New England Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States on behalf of the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force (VACTF), with guidance from the New York State Humane Association (NYSHA) manual entitled How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in New York. Funding provided by the Vermont Humane Federation (VHF), the Humane Society of the United States. (HSUS) New England Regional Office and the Vermontnt Sheriffs Association. Prosecution Opportunities for Early Response to Crime and Interpersonal Violence.
American Prosecutors Research Institute. Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., ASPCA. July 2006. How to Prosecute Animal Cruelty in Georgia from Start to Finish.
The National Animal Control Association offers Animal Control officers helpful tools in the areas of administration, education, field operations, inspection permits, and shelter operations. NACA has state chapters which offer ACO's the kind of information referenced in this section.
The Next Generation of Animal Protection Laws. Otto, Stephan K., Esq, Director of Legislative Affairs, ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund) State of New Jersey.
Commission of Investigation Report on the ASSOCIATED HUMANE SOCIETIES. March 2003. This Report is available on the Commission’s Web (In 1989 the New Jersey Certified Animal Control Officers Association along with the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights groups proposed legislation that would allow Animal Control Officers with additional training to enforce the animal cruelty statutes of New Jersey.)
How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in New York State - A Manual of Procedures. Texas Humane Legislation Network Primer and Procedures.
Every state offers ACOs and animal cruelty prosecutors this type of information. They must often pay for these types of materials. I urge anyone that is pro-active about their animal ownership rights to download these documents while they can. We can use this information to our advantage. In the following weeks, We the People, will be providing much more information regarding the animal rights march to push us further down the slippery slope.
Author: Sue Beaulieu