Webinar presenters Erin Aiello and Janette Reever answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Preparing for Court: Tips for Effective Testimony about Animal Crimes. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Bond laws were deemed unconstitutional in Maryland about 15 years ago. Can you provide some pointers on filing for a designation of unfit owner ex parte? So, the animals can be rehabbed and placed even if a trial drags on for a year or more.
Janette Reever: Yes, I can actually answer that for you, and this has been a continual problem in Maryland because, as you said, they don’t have bonding and forfeiture. So, unfortunately, it’s been brought up to the chain all the way to the Attorney General’s Office. They’ve tried to use methods where it’s unethical and to keep these animals confined like this. Unfortunately, there’s been nothing that we’ve been able to find that you can legally place these animals. However, fairly recently, we assisted with a case where the animals were dispositioned. It was a cockfighting case. The animals were destroyed on the scene, humanely, of course, by the state vet because the animals were not kept in quarantine, they were coming across state lines from Mexico. But Erin, I’m curious to see if you have any kind of suggestions, but Maryland’s a really tough state.
Erin Aiello: The only thing that I can think of is we do have by-laws in Massachusetts. But sometimes those are limited. So, if I don’t have an animal that’s forfeited, I made you a motion to spay or neuter. So, if there’s a specific thing that you want to happen to the animal, that maybe bring that to the attention of the court via a motion. That’s my only suggestion, because we, as prosecutors in Massachusetts, have an opportunity to file for a motion for bond. That being said, I have found in a lot of my cases recently that due to indigent circumstances, I’m not having a lot of luck with judges actually imposing a bond. So, my thought is if there was a civic action such as you need to spay or neuter the animal, doing a motion to literally spay or neuter the animal and bringing that to the court.
Audience Question: How would you prepare yourself for a clerk magistrate hearing? Is that the same as prepping for a court case, or are they different?
Erin Aiello: So, I can answer that, we have a clerk magistrate. Are you from Massachusetts? Because that is what we have, we have clerk magistrate hearings. My only thought is if you are in Massachusetts, animal cruelty is a felony and so you don’t have to do clerks hearing. You can just apply for a complaint with the clerk magistrate. But if you, it was something that you didn’t want to do a clerk hearing for, then I would prepare it just as you would for testimony where you are reviewing reports, you’re knowledgeable about your information. Clerk hearings are a little bit more lax. And so that if you wanted to refer to your report, you would be able to do so, you would not be able to do so necessarily at trial. So, it’s a little bit more relaxed as a clerk magistrate, you’re not going to necessarily be under the same scrutiny as you would under a trial setting.
Audience Question: In your experience, how important is it for evidence or data of positive improvement in an animal condition after seizure versus prior exposure and neglect cases. So basically, how important is it to have those before and after photos to show here’s what the animal looked like when we confiscated the animal and after being properly taken care of, here’s what they look like afterward, and is saying that her prosecutor doesn’t do this or they don’t use these photos, and so how do we encourage them to use that strategy?
Erin Aiello: So, if I’m presented with a photo, and it looks this animal looks really good, I’m going to want to use that in front of a jury. My suggestion would be, just not to have any issues at court, Massachusetts tends to be strict, maybe do a motion in limine. So, if you want your prosecutor to use it, I will definitely show that prosecutor the difference between the two because that’s a powerful piece of evidence. If the prosecutor is concerned that it may not be allowed in court, or she thinks that the judge may not allow it. I would do that as a motion in limine, then as a prosecutor. The Commonwealth and tends to include this picture afterward, I think it goes to your elements, it goes to what you’re trying to prove. The issue is this is neglect. And then you have somebody who can testify, well, this animal was just fed and that’s why they look so much better. Then I think it goes to the elements of your case. But out of an abundance of caution, I would file a motion in limine to allow to ask the court to submit that photo.
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