Webinar presenter Jake Kamins answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Working and Managing Inter-Agency Relationships: Investigating and Prosecuting Animal Abuse Cases. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Did companion animals and farm animals have the same requirements for standards of care from a legal perspective?
Jake Kamins: I would say, it depends. In Oregon, and I’ll reiterate what Chris said earlier, in the presentation about this presentation not being legal advice. But in Oregon, the laws of minimum care do specify out some legal requirements for domestic animals that are not requirements for livestock animals. It also specifies some legal requirements that are there for livestock animals, that are not there for domestic animals. Additionally, there are some exceptions and exemptions in the law that have to do with animals. For example, being transported as livestock that take those cases entirely out of the criminal justice system, potentially. So, I think that’s a great question for a criminal attorney, prosecutor or criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction who’s familiar with these types of cases. I will say that if it’s true in a state as progressive as Oregon on these issues, then it’s likely true in most, if not all, other states as well.
Audience Question: It sounds like what you described today is a Task Force or is it what’s the difference between what you kind of described and what a task force is?
Jake Kamins: I think it could be referred to colloquially as a task force. It is we’re trying to improve our practices. So, it could be called something else. But that’s the root of it is trying to make sure that when these cases arise, we’re all on the same page and we all understand what it is that we have to put in and what it is that we’re potentially getting out of these cases.
Audience Question: How has COVID in your area changed how you’re operating or handling cases?
Jake Kamins: It has changed how the courts are handling cases. In most circumstances, most in court appearances have been changed to the degree that they can be to remote appearances. So, for example, this morning, I was on one video call at 8:30, and then I was on one phone call at 10:30. Those are both appearances, that likely pre-COVID would have been in-person appearances and the defendants were instructed to appear remotely as well. The fact is that most animal cruelty cases are, even in non-COVID times, going to be cases where the defendant is not held in custody pending trial because the cases top out as level C felonies. So typically, people are not facing lengthy jail or prison stays. So, because my cases are out of custody, courts are kind of slowly moving back towards normal in terms of having hearings and trials, but it will be a while before we’re back in. I’ve been receiving cases at the same clip maybe even a little bit faster than pre-COVID. I’ve been charging them as they come in, but they don’t move as fast as they used to.
Audience Question: In the wake of all these defund conversations, do you think animal cruelty investigations could possibly change and if so, how?
Jake Kamins: It’s something that I am keeping an eye on, and I have a lot of complicated feelings and thoughts about the whole conversation around policing in this country. But I am worried. I am a little bit on edge that law enforcement cuts are going to come on the back of animal services. Because if an agency that has an animal services division has to lose X number of officers as a result of the conversations we’re having. My experience is that those cuts may well come from an animal services division. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen a community policing approach used effectively in these cases. I think that that’s something that can definitely work in a lot of communities. But I would say that I’m hopeful that things are moving in a positive trend relative to that. And also, hopeful that the changes that do come about are not born on the backs of animal cruelty cases.
Audience Question: Will you be doing any trainings anytime soon in Southern Oregon?
Jake Kamins: I could, Tyler, one way to figure that out. I don’t know what agency you’re with. But, if whoever’s in charge there wants to bring me down, I’m happy to do it. Right now, during COVID, I’m also happy to do things remotely. I know that’s a little bit less helpful, but if it helps even one case, I’m willing to travel the width and breadth of the state to do that kind of thing. So, talk to your agency head or just send me an e-mail, and we’ll figure something out.
Audience Question: Can a state or agency employed veterinarian present evidence or be allowed to testify at trial as an expert?
Jake Kamins: Yes, I would say, almost every time that I have a veterinarian testify, it would come under what I would call, expert testimony. Expert testimony is something that we use in court when a person is going to be testifying in a way that is beyond the bare facts that they see on the ground. In other words, an expert is allowed to hypothesize about possible causes or diagnoses that a layperson testifying would not be allowed to testify about. So, almost every time that I have a veterinarian on the stand if I’m asking them a question, like, based on your training and experience and your opportunity to evaluate this animal, was this animal provided adequate minimum care? They are answering that as an expert witness.
Audience Question: What can we do to help veterinarians understand how important their roles are in this process? What can we do to help them help to overcome their concerns?
Jake Kamins: I think the best way to help anybody overcome any concern is to show that you understand it. And I always start conversations with veterinarians with, I understand that this is outside of your main area and that this is a burden on your ability to get your job done. And then I would explain what it is that we’re trying to do and why. I think most veterinarians go into it out of an abundance of love and compassion for animals. They don’t want to see animals mistreated and they understand that one of the best ways to avoid that is to have a robust response when animals are mistreated. That being said, they have their own concerns. And if you understand them and if you show that you are sympathetic to them, they will help you, in my experience, more willingly and more openly than otherwise. One thing that I’ll specifically share is that when I have a veterinarian on my witness list, one of the things that I make sure to do as a prosecutor is to find out what their schedule looks like to try to schedule court hearings around their schedule. So instead of trying to, tell them when to be, where to be, ask them, when would be best for you. Because a lot of times, veterinarians and particularly emergency veterinarians. They have weird hours. They’re going to be doing the swing shift. They might have weird weekends. Their weekend might be Monday Tuesday. So, if you can talk to them about their scheduling issues beforehand, that’s a great way to show how you understand and respect the work that they’re doing, and we’ll work with them.
Host: That’s a great tip, thank you. That’s fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard, and we’ve heard we’ve had a ton of animal cruelty webinars over the last couple of years. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say that, so thank you.
Audience Question: What do you do if your county law enforcement agency doesn’t ever really prioritize or push for criminal prosecution on animal cruelty incidents? What can we do to rectify this?
Jake Kamins: Well, that’s tough. I mean, you really do want law enforcement involved in these cases if they are going to be criminal in nature. I think media and social media can be helpful in that regard. I’m not really an expert in those things but I do think that sometimes that’s called for. Some law enforcement agencies are headed up by elected officials. Sheriff’s offices are very often, the elected Sheriff. So, there might be some political play there. I try to talk to these agencies about, again, similar to the answer on the veterinarian question, I’d want to talk to the agency about what their concerns are with going forward on these cases. Because typically the law will say, this is a crime, and if you can present those facts to a law enforcement agency, it’s pretty rare that they’re going to say, we don’t want to enforce that law. That’s a pretty far-out thing for a law enforcement agency to do or say. Sometimes it happens and sometimes there are policy reasons for it. But generally speaking, if you can say, look, this is the law and we’d like you to help us because these are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, fear, and suffering, and we’d like to help that be alleviated. They, hopefully, will agree to that.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Working and Managing Inter-Agency Relationships: Investigating and Prosecuting Animal Abuse Cases.