Webinar presenter Jake Kamins answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Animals as Victims: Charging and the Law. Here are just a few of his responses, edited for clarity and completeness.
Audience Question: Does the intent to cause harm versus neglect not trigger a felony charge?
Jake Kamins: That’s a good question. The answer is: It depends. In the State of Oregon, animal neglect charges carry a mental state called “Criminal Negligence.” What criminal negligence means is that a person fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their behavior is going to cause a particular result. The failure to be aware of the risk is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
Animal abuse, on the other hand, typically occurs when somebody injures an animal intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. All of those mental states require the State to prove some intent or awareness on the part of the defendant. What mental state can be proven often makes a major difference as to what crimes can be charged. I would check with a local criminal prosecutor about what the animal cruelty laws in your state are for intentional versus criminally negligent acts. One thing that I see a lot is people in animal services jobs just not having a real full grasp on all the criminal laws they may run across in their investigations, which could lead to missing information in their reports. Prosecutors tend to be busy, but I bet many would be thrilled to go out to lunch and explain all the possible offenses in the animal cruelty world, and what evidence would be needed to prove them, including mental states. I encourage you to reach out to your local prosecutor, whoever that might be, and find out what is it that they are looking for before your investigation begins, so you can build strong cases.
Audience Question: How do you decide how to charge when there’s a large number of animals? Like for example, in the animals hoarding case that you described with Hess). Do you usually go charge one for one, one animal equals one charge or we’ve heard other prosecutors would kind of gang up animals based on what happened to them until there are just five to six charges for 45 animals. How does a prosecutor think through this process?
Jake Kamins: Yeah. That’s a great question too. As a person specializing in these cases, it’s important that I make sure to treat everybody fairly under the law, and treat similarly situated people the same way. What I typically want to do is have the charges at the beginning of a case represent the full extent of the criminal activity. Taking the Hess Case as an example: There were 45 animals and 7 or 8 of them have died as the result of the neglect so we charged 45 counts with 7 or 8 of the counts being animal neglect in the first degree which required as an additional element death of the animal. I tend to advise prosecutors and I tend to in my own practice to file one count per animal. Later, we go through negotiations, and a lot of times what happens is some counts get dismissed, some counts get plead to, some counts that are originally felonies get reduced to a misdemeanor. There’s a lot of negotiations that go on which in my practice have a lot to do with early acceptance of responsibility.
Audience Question: How many other States have similar statutes or findings that animals are victims and should be cared for in a way that minimizes stress, fear, pain and suffering? How many States are like Oregon?
Jake Kamins: That’s a great question. In terms of having that language in black and white in the laws, I’m not sure. I think Oregon is pretty unique in that way. That language came about through a real concerted effort on the part of the legislation and the animal welfare groups in the State of Oregon to make that a reality. I would be surprised if it was replicated often in other places. One thing I would suggest, certainly to prosecutors in States where this is not black and white, is to go back to look at the legislative history around the enactment of animal cruelty statutes and you’ll probably find some good language that you could use in your summations. I will say that in terms of my position as a State-wide Animal Cruelty Prosecutor, I’m proud to say that my home State of Virginia has a unit in their Attorney General’s Office which started a couple of years after I did. And I know people are working on similar programs in other States around the country.
Audience Question: Are you finding any certain trends in Oregon in terms of the type of crimes or animal crimes that you’re prosecuting? For example, from time to time we hear different prosecutors talk about: they’re seeing a growth in Animal Fighting cases or during the Great Recession we certainly heard about animal neglect in farm animals etcetera because people were struggling financially. Are you seeing any particular trends? Kind of talk about that for a minute, if you would?
Jake Kamins: It’s hard for me to say because I tend to be brought in when a case is so large it seems unwieldy to give to a line prosecutor or when cases are so complex factually that they seem overly complicated for a line prosecutor. It’s hard for me to extrapolate because I don’t do all of the animal cruelty cases in the state. That being said: I have been consistently impressed by the huge amount of heart and caring shown by Oregon’s animal welfare community. People in this state just want to help animals in need.
The other thing I will say is that some people have a tendency not to appreciate how expensive and time-consuming it is to provide care for livestock animals, particularly horses. Just because a person has always been a horse owner and their parents were always horse owners, and their parent’s parents were always horse owners doesn’t mean that horse ownership continues to make financial or practical sense. When people have trouble paying for their domestic animals, they will often say, “You know, I realize that this has gotten a bit too much for me and I need to do what’s best for these animals.” But in cases involving horses, people will say, “You know, that’s just who we are. We are just people who have horses and so it doesn’t matter that we can’t provide for them in the way that they need to take care of their health and well-being.” I understand the bond that people have with their animals and with their lifestyles and their livelihoods. But these are sentient beings capable of pain, fear, and suffering, and they deserve treatment that recognizes that fact.
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