Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment

Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Module 1
Recorded on: 2021-05-18
Unit 1 Slide Deck: Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment
Unit 2 Workbook: Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment
Unit 3 Transcript: Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment
Unit 4 Recording: Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment

People love animals. Sometimes the role of animals for their humans are so valuable that humans depend on them  for daily activities as in the case of service animals and emotional support animals. There’s so much unconditional love directed to animals that when they are neglected or abused, emotions run high, and the first instinct is to rescue that animal and give it the care and attention it needs. However, in the legal realm, it is highly encouraged that people advocating for animals and responding to animal cruelty incidents take a step back and ensure Fourth Amendment rights are not violated.

This session’s resource speaker is Chief Trevor Whipple. He served the law enforcement profession from 1980 to 2018 in various roles most recently as the Vermont Police Department Chief. Upon retiring, he became a Law Enforcement Consultant for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and a Law Enforcement Trainer for the Humane Society of the United States.

This session’s discussion include:

  • The scope of the Fourth Amendment and the consequence of its violation that essentially implies that illegally obtained evidence doesn’t exist and can’t be used to confront the person that’s being accused.
  • Understanding the investigative process as a tree where the evidence is the fruit of the process.
    • How to yield the fruits through a healthy and thorough investigative process.
    • What it looks like to pursue something that isn’t lawful to begin with.
    • How mistakes or lines crossed during the investigative process can result into what is dubbed as the fruit of the poisonous tree.
  • The potential consequences and sanctions for a Fourth Amendment violation to an officer.
  • The different situations when lawful seizures can be implemented without potential Fourth Amendment infringement and case examples that demonstrate these concepts
    • Distinguishing exigent from non-exigent circumstances and the exigency (ABC) test.
    • Free of restraint where an animal is required to be restrained but isn’t.
    • Plain view where you legally are able to observe an evidence of a crime.
    • Evictions where someone has been legally evicted from a property and the animals left behind can be legally seized.
    • Open fields where a property is not posted as no trespassing, then the animals within can be seized.
    • Consenting to have a property search or seized, the knowing and voluntary nature of consent, and the scope and limitations of consent.
  • Case examples were provided to help attendees determine the need for a warrant by examining the circumstances and the recommended resolutions for these.
  • Animals’ legal status as property and how this impacts the courts’ ruling for cases.
  • Guidelines for reports, affidavits and warrants which highlight the value of:
    • Collaboration between law enforcement/animal control/humane society and the prosecutors to ensure the thoroughness required to build a strong case.
    • Report writing emphasizing the importance of attention to detail, chronology, and clarity in the language used.
    • Establishing probable cause that an animal-related crime has been or is being committed.
    • Ensuring comprehensiveness in the warrant by looking at the critical components that must be included and considered.
    • Planning ahead, communicating and coordinating all involved entities for the search/seizure operation, and handling seized animals.

Questions from the audience are about:

  • What could have been done to get better outcomes in the case studies.
  • The value in slowing down, gathering information, and proceeding carefully to prevent Fourth Amendment violations.
  • The outcomes of the horses in the George Wilson case study.


Other Webinars with HSUS:


Audience Comments

  • “It was very informative regarding the importance of the 4th amendment in securing your investigation. I am a detective in our 4th year of an Animal Cruelty Investigation Unit, and we have learned the importance of exigency and warrants. thank you! — DETECTIVE
  • “I really like the way the 4th amendment was really explained in-depth as well as talking about seizures and warrants.” — Andrew
  • “Really interesting to hear real world case examples of how the 4th amendment affected the situation.” — Amber
  • “Case studies about losing evidence because of not getting a warrant are impactful and hopefully effective at getting the message across! This speaker was clearly knowledgeable and conveyed the information in a way that was easy to understand and apply.” — Emily
  • “It refreshed the search and seizure laws and provided a clearer picture of exigent circumstances.” — William



View our Animal Welfare Webinar  Schedule and Recordings



This webinar has been certified by the National Animal Care & Control Association and is approved for 1 Continuing Education Unit. Please refer to your NACA membership portal for current CEU submission process. Current NACA Members who attend the live presentation or watch the recording will be able to download a jointly issued attendance certificate that includes the National Animal Care & Control Association logo. Visit the NACA training page for a complete list of future trainings.




This webinar has been pre-approved by the Maine Animal Welfare Program for 1 Continuing Education Unit for the State of Maine’s ACO annual training. You can find more information about Certification, required annual training or submitting materials for credit at Maine’s Animal Control Officer Resource Page.





** This webinar has been certified by the National Animal Care and Control Association and may be eligible for Continuing Education Units. Please consult your local certification processes for additional details. Current NACA Members who attend will be able to download a jointly issued attendance certificate that includes the National Animal Care & Control Association logo.
Additional Resources
3 years ago
After the Webinar: Animal Cruelty Investigations and the 4th Amendment. Q&A with Trevor Whipple
Webinar presenter Trevor Whipple answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Animal […]
4 years ago
Large-Animal Cruelty Cases: Unique Considerations for Investigating Non-Companion Animal Neglect
Investigating animal crimes can be a lot of work as it is, but dealing with large animals can make i […]
4 years ago
Animal Hoarding: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Know
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies hoarding as a disorder that req […]
5 years ago
Criminal Cases Involving Multi-Animal Impounds
Over the past few years, more attention is drawn to the gravity of animal cruelty cases and how it o […]
5 years ago
Animal Cruelty Investigations and Prosecutions
Animal cruelty is now recognized as a legitimate crime and has been gaining more and more support fr […]