Webinar presenter Claudine Wilkins answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Tools in Animal Abuse Cases. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: In your experience. what kind of cases of animal cruelty is the most common? Is it truly just “neglect”? What’s the most common that you’ve seen in your experience?
Claudine Wilkins: It’s definitely that. That is the most common and you can see a lot of it. So we highlighted some serious crimes and depraved behavior kind of things too but the majority of the cases are simple neglect.
Audience Question: What are the biggest mistakes that prosecutors make in handling animal abuse cases?
Claudine Wilkins: Let me go back to something that’s important. The amount of suffering an animal endured as a result of simple neglect because our losses can be much worse than a felony intentional abuse. For example, somebody can intentionally shoot a dog and the animal died instantaneously but an animal can be sweltering in the hot sun, day in day out every day for all its life during summer, or freezing in the cold and the suffering on that animal is much worse and the same goes for the conditions in a puppy mill or a hoarding cases. Don’t ever take neglect lightly. Look at the victim. Look at the amount of suffering the animal went through. The question was about prosecutors what are the mistakes they made? They pick the wrong jury. First of all, there are not only juries to cases. Second of all, they plead out most of the time. That question is what your typical lawyer would say it depends. If you’re actually going to go in front of a jury, pick the right jury and I would pick people who have pets. You go into detail about having to care for their pets. Are they in a cage all day were the persons at work or they’re sleeping in the bed at night, these are empathetic relationships they have with animals? If you’re not in front of a jury, and you’re just going in front of a judge, know your judge. I had a judge and this is no kidding, my first month as a prosecutor, the judge I prosecuted in front of me, stood up on his desk, pointed his finger on his desk and said if I can’t sit on it or eat it, an animal is of no use to me. I never forgot that. I later taught that judge about 10 years later he was at a judge’s conference. He still had the same attitude. But you know, know your judge and if the judge likes that, you want a strict adherence of the crime itself and focus on the wrongdoing, not the victim. Know your judge and then if it’s a plea, make sure the sentence fits the situation because if you got cornered there and there’s no psychological evaluation at least at the minimum, you’re going to see that person recidivate. I guarantee it so make sure your sentencing in a plea bargain is appropriate.
Audience Question: When we discover an animal stuck in a hot vehicle, are we able to use exigent circumstances to break the window and seize the animal?
Claudine Wilkins: It depends on who we are. If you’re assuming it’s a police officer or animal control officer, okay police officers, yes in exigent circumstances definition in your state describe what that is. If an animal is suffering, and it’s obviously in danger, exigent circumstances kick in. We have a list of case law that tells us different varieties of what exigent mean and certainly an animal in a hot car suffering and about to have a heat stroke is exigent for sure. Now, we just passed a law that clearly says that there is no civil liability upon a police officer for doing just that. We tried to get a good samaritan law passed in Georgia but it did not pass. That doesn’t mean a good samaritan can’t break a window. Will they be prosecuted? Probably not. If the dog was in 75 degrees out and the person breaks a window, everything factors into the totality of the circumstances right? So animal control officers in our state, they’re certified and exigent circumstances apply to those who are allowed to be on the property so I can’t really answer that based on not knowing your state law but exigent circumstances and hot cars go hand in hand.
Audience Question: What is exactly an animal task force again and how hard is it really to form one?
Claudine Wilkins: An animal cruelty task force, I don’t know what you heard, can be also called something like an animal protection unit. Virginia state, for example, has one in their AG office. Michelle Welch is the special prosecutor for the entire state. A task force though doesn’t have to state. It can be local. We’re doing one in Atlanta. We’re actually trying to solidify it through our mayor but basically there’s plenty of training on this by the way and there are a few books out there but basically, if you think about a task force no different than having a domestic violence task force or human trafficking task force. It’s aligning the right people in cases to not only communicate with each other but to understand the special area of law and investigations. So, everything from call to conviction meaning from dispatch all the way down to the probation officer and everything in between understand how animal cases should be handled and the nuances between all the different types of cases so we have to have buy-in from the stakeholders so the Department of Public Safety might want to be involved. The police department in your sheriff’s department, your DA, and the solicitor’s office. Judges not so much. Usually, they are not part of the task force because they have to remain unbiased and remember that. Basically what you’re doing is bringing the people to the table and say you’re stakeholders. And by the way, voters are going to love it and it’s one of the best PR tactics you can do for your county if you have one of these because people are bi-partisan when it comes to animal welfare and they do both based on their records so one of the best things you can do is bring the stakeholders to a table and educate them on what their job is in their cases and make sure there’s a communication system in place. It could be an app, It could be a spreadsheet or the system you’ve created if officer Joe is not available during Sunday three to five then officer Amy is the backup and she’s been trained. So it’s just a matter of communication no different than any other types of task force and we do a presentation on that. I know Michelle does something like that as well.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Tools in Animal Abuse Cases.