Over the past two decades, most states in the country have passed some sort of animal cruelty legislation. California has been at the forefront of this movement. Animal cruelty laws generally have more public support than other criminal laws. This is perhaps due, in part, to the increasing public awareness of the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. Today, California has more than 50 laws that criminalize acts of animal cruelty.
If you have been charged with an act of animal cruelty in San Diego it is important to speak with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with these complex laws. Local prosecutors will not hesitate to pursue the most serious criminal charges possible for acts of animal cruelty. San Diego animal cruelty defense attorney Vikas Bajaj has more than 16 of experience defending clients against criminal charges. He believes in using an aggressive pre-investigative process to limit the potential consequences of an arrest. In many cases, he is able to get the charges against his clients reduced or dismissed. Contact his office today to learn more about how he can help.
What is Animal Cruelty?
The primary animal cruelty law in California is Penal Code Section 597 PC. An act of animal cruelty occurs when a person maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, wounds, or kills a living animal. The statute specifically designates certain actions and behaviors as criminal. These include:
- Overworking or overloading an animal;
- Tormenting an animal by depriving it of necessary food, water, or shelter from weather;
- Beating, mutilating, or killing an animal;
- Subjecting an animal to needless suffering;
- Inflicting unnecessary cruelty upon an animal; and
- Riding or otherwise using an animal who is unfit for labor.
When you are charged with animal cruelty under Penal Code Section 597 PC the prosecutor must prove all essential elements of the offense. You cannot be convicted of animal cruelty in California unless the prosecutor proves beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) there was some act, omission, or neglect that unnecessarily and unjustifiably caused physical pain to be suffered by an animal; (2) you acted maliciously and intentionally; and (3) the animal harmed was protected by the law.
Most, but not all, animals are protected by Penal Code Section 597 PC. Generally, California’s animal cruelty laws apply to “every dumb creature.” This essentially means any sentient being that is not a human. However, there are exceptions to when this law may be applied. Animals who are used for verified laboratory, educational, medical, and/or farming uses are not protected by the California animal cruelty law.
Note: California has been at the forefront of providing some limited legal protections to farmed animals. These protections are regulatory and focus on living conditions, rather than physical abuse.
Penalties for Animal Cruelty
In California, animal cruelty can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The actual criminal charge will depend on (1) the seriousness of the offense, (2) the classification of the animal harmed, and (3) your own criminal record. If you have prior convictions for animal cruelty-related offenses or if the animal you harmed was endangered and/or protected you will be subject to harsher criminal penalties.
A conviction for misdemeanor animal cruelty carries a possible sentence of up to one year in County jail, probation, and/or monetary fines of up to $1,000.
A conviction for felony animal cruelty carries a possible sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in California state prison, probation, and/or monetary fines of up to $20,000.
If you are convicted of an act of animal cruelty in San Diego you may also be required to attend and complete court-ordered counseling and pay the costs associated with the seizure of your animal(s). You may also be liable for damages in a civil suit if the animal you harm was owned by another person. Your best option is to speak to a criminal lawyer with a proven track record immediately.
Other Animal Cruelty Offenses in California
California has more than 50 animal cruelty-related laws. Even if you are not charged under the main animal cruelty statute, you can still face criminal liability under one of these other statutes. Most other acts of animal cruelty (with the exception of dogfighting) are misdemeanor offenses and are punishable by no more than one year in jail. Commonly charged animal cruelty offenses in California include:
- Causing or Assisting a Dogfight: It is a crime to own, possess, keep, or train a dog for the purpose of dogfighting. This includes causing any dog to fight for amusement or gain or allowing a dogfight to occur on property that you own or control. Participating in dogfighting is a felony in California. If convicted, you could be sentenced to between 16 months and 3 years in prison. Your sentence may also include fines of up to $50,000. [Penal Code 597.5 PC]
- Watching a Dogfight: It is also a crime to be present at a dogfight. Watching or be present at a dogfighting event is a misdemeanor. You may be required to serve up to a year in jail and/or pay monetary fines of up to $5,000. [Penal Code 597.5 PC]
- Cockfighting: It is a crime to cause cocks to engage in a fight with (1) another cock or (2) another animal for amusement or financial gain. This includes permitting or allowing a cockfight to occur on any property that you own or control. Cockfighting carries a possible sentence of one year in jail and/or a monetary fine of up to $10,000. [Penal Code 597b PC]
- Animal Endangerment: It is a crime to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle when doing so could endanger the health or well-being of that animal. Common causes for animal endangerment charges include leaving an animal in a vehicle without proper ventilation, subjecting them to extreme heat or cold, or leaving an animal alone without adequate access to food or water. Animal endangerment carries a fine of $100 or $200 per animal harmed, depending on the harm suffered by the animal(s). [Penal Code 597.7 PC]
- Sexual Abuse of Animals: It is a crime to sexually assault an animal for the purpose of sexual gratification or enjoyment. Sexual abuse of an animal carries a possible sentence of one year in jail and/or a monetary fine of up to $1,000. [Penal Code 286.5 PC]
- Abandoning an Animal: It is a crime to abandon or neglect an animal by failing to provide proper care and attention. Abandoning an animal carries a possible sentence of one year in jail and/or a monetary fine of up to $1,000. [Penal Code 597.1 PC]
Defenses to Animal Cruelty in California
When you have been accused of an act of animal cruelty in California, the prosecutor must prove that you are guilty of each element of the crime. When you hire a criminal attorney to represent you, he will argue any defense that may be applicable to your case. Defenses can be asserted to (1) offer evidence of your innocence, or (2) undermine the prosecution’s case. Possible defenses to animal cruelty charges can include:
- Actual innocence;
- False accusation;
- Lack of intent;
- Lack of knowledge;
- Animal harmed was not protected by the law;
- Evidence acquired through an illegal search or seizure;
- Illegal arrest.
Call San Diego Animal Cruelty Attorney Vikas Bajaj Today
When you face criminal charges for animal cruelty your future hangs in the balance. If you are convicted you can face lengthy terms of imprisonment, expensive monetary fines, and open yourself up to civil liability. Hiring an experienced San Diego animal cruelty defense attorney is the best way to reduce the possibility of these debilitating consequences. Contact the Law office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to schedule a free consultation.