The Humane Society defines animal cruelty as “a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing.” Virginia law takes this offense seriously. Someone found guilty of cruelty toward a cat or a dog can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, the most severe in the state. Convicted, the alleged offender can face up to one year in jail and fines as high as $2,500.
If, however, the state decides that the offense is particularly egregious, it can elevate the crime to a Class 6 felony. A conviction can put someone in prison for five years and charge them fines up to $2,500.
If you’ve been accused of cruelty to animals, here are some defense strategies to discuss with your attorney.
- The Animal May Not Be Protected
Many would agree that squishing a bug does not qualify as animal cruelty. We consider these lower forms of animal life. It may be surprising to learn that more evolved creatures are not always legally protected.
Federally, most farm animals and mammals are protected by law, thereby excluding protections for many cold-blooded, reptilian. Within Virginia’s law, the language generally refers to animals that belong to someone as a pet.
Before moving forward to any other defenses, have your attorney investigate whether the animal is protected at all. You may find that it isn’t, rendering the entire case invalid.
- Lack of Intent
Intent is an important part of criminal prosecution. It isn’t enough to show that the act happened. Prosecutors must also prove that the act was willfully cruel.
Overzealous prosecutors can accuse someone of animal cruelty when the event was simply an accident. For example, an animal can dart out in front of your car, causing you to hit it. This is bad luck on the part of both you and the animal. It is not a maliciously harmful act.
Similarly, someone could confuse mercy with cruelty. Perhaps a hunter encounters a wounded dog and shoots it, putting it out of its misery. These are not the actions of someone who sadistically harmed an animal.
Neglect is also a form of animal cruelty. If a domesticated animal is malnourished, dehydrated, etc., its owner can be charged. According to the Humane Society, such neglect is often unintentional. It can, the organization says, be corrected through education on proper pet ownership. A pet’s owner could also fall on hard times and find it hard to keep their pet healthy. Neglect can also be the result of a mistake. You could, for instance, go on a trip, and your cat’s automatic feeder breaks while you are gone.
If your alleged neglect was unintentional or unavoidable, you can use these facts as a defense in court.
- Self Defense
There is an inherent power difference between animals and humans. For the most part, an angry animal can seriously harm a person. An enraged housecat can ravage someone’s skin, and a medium-sized dog can create severe injury during an attack.
If you are threatened by a vicious animal, you can’t be expected to allow it to maul you. If violence against an animal was an act of self-preservation, you can help explain this fact to the court.
If you’ve been accused of a crime against an animal, contact our firm today for a free consultation. You can reach us by calling (703) 940-0001 or filling out our online contact form.