Environment, Energy and Natural Resources

Animal Cruelty Law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia

Presented by the Animal Law Committee of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Section of the D.C. Bar

Author: Patrick R. Jacobi, with contributions by Angela S. Robinson


Note: This article summarizes existing animal cruelty laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia and selected Federal animal cruelty regulations, as well as issues involved in executing these laws. Specifically, this article provides guidance in understanding what constitutes animal cruelty, what types of activities are exempt from animal cruelty laws, how animal cruelty laws are enforced, the issues involved in prosecuting acts of animal cruelty, and punishment for animal cruelty crimes as a public service of the Animal Law Committee of the D.C. Bar.

It is not and shall not be considered legal advice. Consult an attorney if you have any legal questions regarding the issues discussed herein.


Table of Contents

Introduction
I. Overview of Animal Cruelty Laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia
II. Exemptions
III.Types of Animal Cruelty

A. Prohibited Acts
B. Cruel Mistreatment (Intent)
C. Animal Fighting
D. Significant Acts of Neglect
E. Unjustified Killing
F. Sex Offenses
G. Crush Videos
H. Hoarders or Collectors

IV. Reporting, Investigation and Enforcement
V.  Procedure: Arrest/Warrant Issues
VI. Proving the Crime

A. Experts
B. Reluctant Witnesses
C. General v. Specific Intent

VII. Sentencing

A. Jail Time and Fines (Misdemeanor v. Felony Revisited)
B. Therapy and Counseling

VIII. Possible Link to Human Violence
Conclusion


Introduction
Everyday, in every part of the United States, humans exhibit both great compassion and intolerable cruelty towards animals. For every report of a firefighter rescuing a pet from a burning house, another report emerges of the cruel and intentional burning of a living pet. In a country where so many people keep animals as pets (or “companion animals”), animal cruelty is nevertheless a nationwide problem.

Laws that protect animals have only recently come into existence. In previous centuries, the law recognized animals purely as property, and thus, courts provided only the protection afforded any “chattel,” or thing owned as personal property. During the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, legislatures and courts began to recognize some legal protection for animals separate from the protection afforded to personal property. Today, many federal statutes exist to protect animals, such as the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Endangered Species Act. In addition, all fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutory provisions providing animals with protection from cruelty or neglect.

These are commonly known as anti-cruelty laws. The anti-cruelty laws of the District of Columbia (D.C.), Maryland and Virginia are discussed below.

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I. Overview of Animal Cruelty Laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia
As a background discussion, this Part discusses the general structure of the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia anti-cruelty statutes, as well as the various topics addressed by each. Other portions of each code that contain provisions related to anti-cruelty, but do not specifically address cruelty towards animals, are listed in the Additional Sources section below.

A. District of Columbia
D.C. defines an animal as “any living sentient creature” except a human being, and contains a broad list of actions that constitute animal abuse. These prohibited activities will result in a misdemeanor charge, or, if the prohibited act is accompanied by the intent to commit serious bodily injury or death to an animal, the offender will have committed a felony. The statute also contains provisions that:

 

  • guarantee that impounded animals be treated humanely;
  • prohibit the continued neglect of an animal;
  • outlaw the abandonment of an animal;
  • restrict other cruel acts, such as changing the natural color of a baby chicken, duckling, or other fowl or rabbit; and
  • regulate the horse-drawn carriage trade, rodent control, and the number of animals a person can own as a pet.

These provisions are located in Sections 22-1001 thru 22-1015 of Chapter 10 the D.C. Code.

B. Maryland
Until 2000, Maryland treated animal cruelty only as a misdemeanor, and never as a felony. In 2000, the State enacted a new group of anti-cruelty laws that allow prosecutors to bring felony charges for animal fighting, the cruel killing or injuring of an animal, or the killing of a police dog.

Maryland defines an animal as “any living creature, except a human being.” Like the D.C. Code, the Maryland anti-cruelty provisions set forth a number of prohibited activities that constitute a misdemeanor, and further indicate that the intentional infliction of harm will convert the act into a felony.

In addition, the Maryland statute has numerous provisions that address:

 

  • animal fighting,
  • the sale of a domestic animal,
  • abandonment and neglect,
  • animals as prizes,
  • the killing and disposing of domestic animals,
  • dangerous dogs,
  • kennel inspection,
  • carrier pigeons, and
  • caring for mistreated animals.

The anti-cruelty provisions can be found in Sections 10-601 thru 10-622 of the Maryland code.

C. Virginia
Compared to the anti-cruelty provisions of D.C. and Maryland, Virginia’s animal cruelty statute is less segmented. The anti-cruelty provisions can be divided into essentially two main parts. First, Section 3.1-796.122 lists many different types of prohibited and cruel activities, as well as the accompanying punishments. This includes a misdemeanor for the first offense in Part A of Section 3.1-796.122, as well as a felony for a repeat conviction within five years in Part B. Second, Sections 31.-796.124 thru 3.1-796.126 address dogfighting and cockfighting, as well as shooting pigeons for amusement. The provisions can be found in Sections 3.1-796.122 thru 3.1-796.126 of the Virginia Annotated Code.

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II. Exemptions
Not all animals receive protection from anti-cruelty laws. Exemptions for scientific research are typical nationwide. Most states recognize other exemptions as well. This Part discusses the exemptions to the anti-cruelty provisions of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

A. District of Columbia
The D.C. Code exemplifies the research exemption from anti-cruelty laws. In D.C., the anti-cruelty statute does not apply to activity properly conducted as part of a scientific investigation or experiment performed under the authority of a “regularly incorporated medical college, university, or scientific society.” Some animal advocacy groups, however, note that protections of the AWA do not extend to the animals typically used in research—rats, mice, and birds—and recommend removing from the D.C. Code the blanket exemption for animals used in research.

B. Maryland
In Maryland, four categories of activity exist beyond the reach of the state’s anti-cruelty provisions. First, the provisions do not apply to customary veterinary and agricultural husbandry practices. Second, the statute does not apply to research conducted in compliance with applicable federal laws. This exemption appears to codify Taub v. Maryland, a 1983 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the conviction of a scientist for abusing a lab monkey, holding that then-existing Maryland anti-cruelty laws did not apply to animals used in research. Third, the statute recognizes an exemption for “an activity that may cause unavoidable physical pain to an animal,” such as hunting or pest elimination, provided that the activity is performed in “the most humane method reasonably available.” Fourth, the statute recognizes an exemption for “normal human activities in which the infliction of pain to an animal is purely incidental and unavoidable.”

C. Virginia
In its list of prohibited activities, the Virginia statute excludes any animal abuse “connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation.” The Virginia statute also exempts the dehorning of cattle, authorized wildlife management activities or hunting, and the administration of therapeutic drugs to an animal or a euthanasia procedure performed by a licensed veterinarian.

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III. Types of Cruelty
Humans are capable of many different kinds of cruelty towards animals including burning, stabbing, and starving. Accordingly, anti-cruelty laws, as well as other state laws designed to protect animals, must address many types of cruel behavior. This Part discusses the most common forms of animal cruelty and the provisions that address these cruel acts in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

A. Prohibited Acts
When a state designates an activity as prohibited, physical performance of the act is a crime, regardless of a person’s intent or state of mind. Typically, the main difference between prohibited acts and more aggravated forms of cruelty is the requirement of intent to commit serious harm (or a variation thereof). Some anti-cruelty provisions, such as that of the D.C. Code, state that prohibited acts must be carried out with “knowing” intent in order to constitute a crime.

1. District of Columbia
D.C. prohibits activities in which a person “knowingly overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, cruelly chains, cruelly beats or mutilates” an animal, or causes any of these events to occur. It further prohibits any owner or custodian of an animal from “knowingly inflict[ing] unnecessary cruelty upon the same.” A person can escape liability, however, if the animal is undomesticated, dangerous, and if there is a reasonable fear of imminent attack.

2. Maryland
In contrast to the D.C. and Virginia statutes, the Maryland statute does not contain a detailed list of prohibited activities. Instead, it lists only the overdriving or overloading of an animal, and depriving an animal of necessary sustenance. Maryland also seeks to punish those who “inflict unnecessary suffering on the animal.” In addition, the provision does not require that a person commit a prohibited act with “knowing” intent.

3. Virginia
Virginia’s list of prohibited activities includes, but is not limited to: overloading, torture, abandonment, instigating inhumane treatment or carrying an animal in a vehicle in an inhumane way. Like Maryland, Virginia does not require that a prohibited activity be carried out “knowingly” in order to constitute an offense.

B. Cruel Mistreatment (Intent)
As discussed in more detail below, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge for a prohibited act of animal cruelty typically hinges on the presence of intent to commit an act with cruelty or the intent to commit harm. The cruel mistreatment section of the D.C. and Maryland anti-cruelty provisions reflect this; the Virginia provision does not.

1. District of Columbia
When carried out with the requisite intent, any of the listed prohibited activities in D.C. Code, Ch. 10, § 22-1001(a) graduate from misdemeanors to felonies.

2. Maryland
In a separate section from the listed prohibited acts, the Maryland statute prohibits the intentional mutilation, torture, cruel beating, or cruel killing of an animal.

3. Virginia
Although the definition of a felony does not depend on the presence of intent in Virginia, the statute does punish the willful infliction of inhumane injury or pain, maiming, or mutilating.

C. Animal Fighting
Despite recent additions to state and federal law, animal fighting remains a large problem in the United States. Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and promoting or participating in animal fighting constitutes a felony in 49 states (Idaho is the exception as of April 2004), the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Cockfighting is illegal in every state except Louisiana and New Mexico. In May of 2005, the U.S. Senate approved the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act to further eradicate animal fighting. Recently, law enforcement has taken a harder stand against animal fighting, viewing it as a community problem rather than just an animal problem. In spite of all this, animal fighting appears to be on the rise nationally as evidenced by shelters crowded with pitbulls, typically a dogfighting trainer’s dog of choice, and cocks that have been trained to fight. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) provides support to those who know or suspect that animal fighting is occurring.

1. District of Columbia
Drug dealers often abuse dogs and train them to be violent so as to protect the dealer or to participate in dogfighting activities. In recognition of the gang-related dog-fighting problems facing the District, the D.C. Council recently considered, but did not pass, a controversial measure called the “Pit Bull Public Protection Act.” This act was designed to limit the number of “pit bulls” licensed in the District of Columbia. Although the extent of animal fighting occurring in D.C. is difficult to observe and quantify, and although dogfighting remains a problem in D.C., the Washington Humane Society (WHS) has witnessed a significant decrease in dogfighting over the last ten years. In addition, D.C. does not appear to have a significant cockfighting problem.
D.C. prohibits all conceivable acts that involve the promotion of or profiting from animal fighting, including owning the premises on which fighting occurs. Each of these activities is treated as a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both. D.C. also designates attendance at animal fighting events as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both.

2. Maryland
Maryland prohibits the act of using dogs or allowing dogs to be used in dogfights; arranging or conducting dogfights; possessing, owning, selling, transporting, or training a dog with the intent to use the dog in a fight; or knowingly allowing premises to be used for dogfighting. The Maryland cockfighting provisions are identical to the dogfighting provisions, save a few definitions of terms unique to cockfighting. Other than attendance, commission of any of the listed activities constitutes a felony that carries a jail sentence up to three years in length, a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both. Attendance at a dogfight or cockfight is a misdemeanor and may result in a jail sentence up to 90 days or a fine not to exceed $1,000, or both. Courts may also impose psychological counseling for any of the crimes associated with dogfighting or cockfighting.

3. Virginia
The Virginia statute prohibits dogfighting and fighting involving other types of animals. The prohibition extends to promoting, organizing, profiting from, or wagering on dogfighting; possessing, owning, training, or selling any dog for the purpose of dog fighting; or allowing these activities to occur on one’s premises. Except for attendance, any dogfighting activity constitutes a Class 6 felony, punishable by a jail sentence of between one and five years; or in the alternative and at the discretion of the jury or the judge, twelve months in jail, a fine not to exceed $2500, or both. Attendance at a dogfight constitutes a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine not to exceed $2500, or both. In addition, any person convicted for a dogfighting violation must pay for the housing or euthanizing of any confiscated dogs. Cockfighting, however, is not a felony; instead Virginia has designated any cockfighting activity, including attendance, as a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $500.

D. Significant Acts of Neglect
Neglect is one of the most common forms of animal cruelty. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) describes neglect as the deprivation of adequate food, water, shelter, or veterinary care. ALDF also notes that because the term “adequate” is a generality that does not set out specific care that must be provided for every species, the widespread employment of the term in anti-cruelty statutes can complicate the prosecution of animal neglect. Nonetheless, authorities prosecute neglect cases on a regular basis, particularly against “hoarders” or “collectors” who keep more animals than they can care for, as discussed below.

1. District of Columbia
D.C. prohibits any unnecessary failure to provide domestic animals under their care with proper food, drink, air, light, space, veterinary care, shelter, or protection from the weather. Also, in Section 10-1011, the D.C. Code states that if, after an owner or custodian learns of a pet’s sick or neglected condition, and abandons the animal for more than five hours, then the owner or custodian has committed a misdemeanor.

2. Maryland
Section 10-604(4)(ii) of the Maryland Code states that a person will have committed a misdemeanor if he or she “unnecessarily fail[s] to provide the animal with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air, space, shelter, or protection from the weather.” In addition, Section 10-612 prohibits abandonment of a domestic animal as a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $100.

3. Virginia
As part of its list of prohibited cruel activities that constitute a misdemeanor, Section 2.1-796.122(ii) of the Virginia statute includes “depriving an animal of food, water, or shelter.” Section 3.1-796.73 specifically prohibits the abandonment of an animal, and Section 3.1-796.68 requires an owner to provide adequate food, water, clean shelter, space, exercise, and veterinary care to a companion animal, as well as requiring the same of animal shelters, pet shops, and kennels. In addition, Section 21-1004.1 of the Virginia Code prohibits leaving a cat or dog unattended in a parked vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of the animal.

E. Unjustified Killing
1. District of Columbia
The D.C. Code does not address animal killing other than cruel acts that result in an animal’s death, and, therefore, constitute a felony. Presumably, an owner who “humanely” kills his or her animal will not face liability.

2. Maryland
Section 10-606 of the Maryland code prohibits the cruel killing of an animal as part of the provision’s list of acts of aggravated cruelty to animals, all of which constitute a felony.

3. Virginia
Sections 3.1-796.122 (A) & (B) of the Virginia statute prohibit the unnecessary killing of animals. The death of an abused animal triggers a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, charge.

F. Sex Offenses
About half of the U.S. states outlaw bestiality—any sexual act between a human and an animal—as a separate offense from animal cruelty. Such provisions outlaw the sex act itself, not the physical abuse that may accompany such an act. Consequently, when an animal has clearly suffered as part of or as a precursor to the sex act, prosecutors often bring charges of animal cruelty as well as bestiality.

1. District of Columbia
D.C. designates as a felony the promotion of "a sexual performance," including bestiality, involving a person under the age of sixteen in Sections 22-3101, 3102 of the D.C. Code. A conviction can result in a fine of up to $5,000, ten years in prison, or both.

2. Maryland
Bestiality is labeled an unnatural or perverted act in Article 27, Section 553 of the Maryland Code. Maryland deems such an act to be a felony and punishment includes up to $1,000 in fines or ten years in prison, or both.

3. Virginia
Virginia classifies bestiality as a crime against nature in Section 18.2-361 of the Virginia Code, which prohibits any sexual act with a “brute animal.” Bestiality constitutes a Class 6 felony and carries a sentence of up to $2,500 in fines or one year in prison, or both.

G. Crush Videos
Not everyone finds acts of extreme animal cruelty objectionable; in fact, some people actively seek out demonstrations of animal cruelty. For example, a multimillion-dollar global market exists for torturous, often pornographic “crush” videos that depict the literal crushing of insects, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, cats, dogs, and monkeys. Viewers, typically male, seek these videos out on the internet because they fantasize about being crushed to death under a dominating woman’s foot, and are sexually stimulated by imagining that they, and not the animals, are being crushed.

The distribution of crush videos across state lines is a federal crime. Yet previous to 1999, local district attorneys found the videos difficult to detect and to prosecute, and some debates persisted as to whether the First Amendment of the Constitution protected the content of these sites as free speech. In 1999, Congress responded by passing a law that bans the sale and possession with intent to sell of animal crushing or stomping films, and President Clinton signed the bill into law. In 2005, the first conviction under this statute occurred in a federal district court in Virginia. In addition, such content often violates the user agreement that the creator of the site has signed with the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Accordingly, the best method of eliminating such sites is to notify the ISP when such a site is discovered.

H. Hoarders or Collectors
People who keep large numbers of animals in their house or property in squalid conditions are commonly referred to as “collectors” or “hoarders.” Although many have good intentions, such as providing shelter to unwanted dogs and cats, often the inability to care for so many animals leads to abuse in the form of neglect. Authorities face the often difficult task of confronting persons in complete denial of the conditions in which they and the animals live. As a further difficulty, authorities must conduct extensive follow-up work because each neglected animal must be examined, cared for, and put up for adoption or destroyed. Dr. Gary Patronek of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine has identified the pathology and typical characteristics of hoarders. His results can be found here.

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IV. Reporting, Investigation and Enforcement
As with any criminal prosecution, animal cruelty must be reported and investigated with diligence and accuracy to ensure a conviction and help prevent future acts of cruelty by the offender or others. In most states, officers of the local Humane Society (humane officers) handle the investigation and gathering of information when a cruelty report occurs. Then an attorney employed by the state decides whether to prosecute the offender.

A. District of Columbia
Although the D.C. Code states that “all marshals, police officers, or any humane officer of the Washington Humane Society” shall enforce the anti-cruelty provisions, many provisions favor enforcement primarily by WHS officers. For example, D.C. allows WHS officers to take possession of an animal to protect it from further neglect or cruelty either by obtaining a seizure warrant, or, in the presence of exigent or emergency circumstances, without first obtaining a warrant. Further, only a WHS officer has the power to request a search warrant for a violation of anti-cruelty laws. While the WHS has not been granted exclusive anti-cruelty enforcement, it has become the exclusive enforcement authority via long-standing custom and practice.

The overall process of investigating and enforcing violations of D.C. anti-cruelty provisions involves numerous parties. WHS officers act on tips reported to their hotline, often by the police, the D.C. Animal Control Division, veterinarians, or citizens. WHS officers investigate reports of cruelty, and can seize abused animals and obtain search warrants. On average, the WHS receives 1700 cruelty complaints per year and, from those, applies for 25-30 warrants. The Washington Human Society refers only the most serious and easily provable cases for prosecution. The U.S. Attorney’s Office handles the arrest and prosecution of abusers, with some assistance provided by reports written by the original humane officer on the scene.

Because animal cruelty is often not the only crime a person may have committed, Animal control officers are now trained to look for more than just animal abuse during an investigation; likewise, police officers are encouraged to look for animal abuse when investigating other crimes in the home, especially domestic violence. The D.C. Code is one of a handful of anti-cruelty statutes that reflect this connection and permits humane officers to report known or suspected child abuse.

B. Maryland
In Maryland, the Animal Services division of the local police department typically executes the investigation, citation, and arrest of animal abusers. In addition, the Maryland statute deputizes officers of the Humane Society to perform arrests if they witness a misdemeanor act of animal cruelty, as per Section 10-609 of the Maryland Code. In Baltimore, the Maryland Code deputizes the Division of Animal Health of the Baltimore County Health Department instead of Humane Society officers.

After the initial animal cruelty investigation, the process of executing the law begins. If the offense is relatively minor and constitutes a misdemeanor, the investigating officer will write a citation, or report recommending an action for authorities to take such as a second visit or a warning. If, however, the offense is more serious and might constitute a felony, the matter is referred up to the local commissioner and, perhaps, a Senior State’s Attorney with some experience prosecuting animal cruelty cases. If there is an indication of cruel intent or sadistic behavior, the police will arrest the offender and begin the process of prosecution.

C. Virginia
Section 3.1-796.107of the Virginia Code authorizes any Animal Control officer, law-enforcement officer, humane officer, or State Veterinarian’s representative to investigate a complaint of a suspected violation. Virginia empowers humane investigators in Section 3.1-796.106:2, provided they meet certain requirements as listed in 3.1-796.106. Although the process varies from county to county, Animal Control officers handle the majority of investigations of animal abuse reports in Virginia. In some instances, prosecutors from the local Commonwealth attorney’s office accompany Animal Control personnel on the initial investigation. Once an investigation has occurred, the Commonwealth attorney will make a decision whether to prosecute.

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V. Procedure: Arrest/Warrant Issues
Although the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure, many states recognize exceptions when authorities are faced with exigent circumstances where harm is imminent and search or seizure is necessary to avoid the harm. A state’s rules of criminal procedure also provide protection for those suspected of crimes by guaranteeing that authorities must investigate and prosecute crimes according to specific rules. Because of these protections, authorities must obtain a warrant prior to conducting a search and rarely carry out warrantless seizures in animal cases. Some states, however, recognize that exigent circumstances require warrantless seizure of animals in danger either in case law or by statute.

A. District of Columbia
WHS officers in D.C. will rarely seize an animal without a warrant. Typically, WHS field officers report the abuse to the Humane Law Enforcement Division (HLED) of the National Humane Society, which then files an affidavit for an arrest warrant through the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Once a judge issues a warrant, the WHS officers call the owner and request that he turn himself in. If unsuccessful, an arrest is made. HLED handles the post-arrest procedure in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Despite the WHS officers’ tendency not to make arrests, Section 22-1004 of the D.C. Code authorizes arrests and seizures of animals without a warrant in order to protect an animal from neglect or cruelty. As a procedural safeguard, the Code requires that if animals are seized, the officer must take responsibility for notifying the owner within 20 days of the seizure, as well as overseeing the animal’s care during that period.

By allowing warrantless seizures in exigent circumstances, Section 22-10004 codifies the holding of the D.C. Court of Appeals in Tuck v. United States, 477 A.2d 115 (D.C. 1984). In that case, the District Court of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a pet store owner who abused animals by keeping them in a display window that was extremely hot. On a day when the outside temperature reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit, the pet store owner kept a puppy and a rabbit in an unventilated display window. Fearing that the rabbit would die if it remained in the window, officers seized the rabbit without a warrant. A veterinarian later diagnosed the rabbit with heat stroke. The owner argued that the rabbit was seized in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s conviction, finding that the humane officer’s testimony provided enough evidence of exigent circumstances that posed an immediate threat to the life of the rabbit to justify the warrantless seizure.

B. Maryland
Although Maryland anti-cruelty provisions and reported cases do not address warrantless seizure specifically for animal cruelty violations, one case addressed warrantless seizure in an animal context. In Cahill v. Montgomery County, the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland ruled that, absent probable cause, an animal control officer could not seize an allegedly unvaccinated animal under the authority of the Montgomery County Code without an administrative search warrant. This case, however, may not apply as precedent in a challenge to an animal cruelty prosecution because the court clearly distinguished the requisite showing of probable cause for an administrative warrant from the requisite showing of probable cause for a criminal warrant.

C. Virginia
Although Virginia allows for seizures in light of exigent circumstances in Section 3.1-796.115, the provision also places an affirmative duty on prosecuting attorneys to prove that a seizure carried out with a warrant was justified “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a hearing to be held within ten days of the seizure. One prosecutor believes that a warrantless seizure could possibly withstand a challenge in a situation where harm to an animal was clearly imminent. Nevertheless, due to the hearing requirement, warrantless seizures of abused animals are rare in Virginia.

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VI. Proving the Crime
Once an animal cruelty arrest is made, the local prosecuting authority has discretion whether to file charges. Although overburdened prosecutors do not always prioritize animal cruelty cases, a truly heinous act of animal cruelty can ignite public outcry and force a prosecutor’s hand. On the other hand, some prosecutors give special attention to animal cruelty cases. For attorneys wishing to facilitate and assist in the prosecution of animal cruelty, Dana Campbell of the ALDF has written a Legal Advocates’ Manual for Animal Abuse Criminal Cases.

Because an accused is only guilty if a fact-finder can determine his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, proving any crime can pose some difficulty and drain the resources of a publicly funded prosecutor. This is especially true for crimes involving animal cruelty. Often numerous experts will need to testify at great cost, lay witnesses may be reluctant to testify, and local anti-cruelty laws may require proof of the intent, or mental state, of the accused at the time the act was committed. Despite these costs, attorneys base decisions to prosecute more on the strength of the evidence and the heinousness of the crime, or intent behind the crime, rather than the costs of prosecution. This Part of the article discusses obstacles that can hinder prosecutions of animal cruelty and how authorities attempt to overcome these obstacles in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

A. Experts
Prosecutors enlist experts to tell the court what happened to an abused animal because, similar to child abuse cases, an animal cannot testify on its own behalf. Veterinarians make excellent chief experts in a case because they can describe injuries, diagnose a cause of death, and offer a wealth of forensic information. In addition, ALDF has been asked to locate non-veterinarian experts in many cases. These include animal behaviorists, wildlife rehabilitators, farriers, species experts such as elephant or turtle specialists, zoo doctors, and others. Although some veterinarians offer their expertise for little to no fee, the cost associated with using experts in animal abuse cases can affect a prosecutor’s decision to file charges for less-than-extreme instances of abuse.

B. Witness Cooperation Issues
Without witnesses to testify that a crime occurred, few arrests will result in conviction. Many witnesses wish only to make an anonymous tip without ever revealing their identity, or assume that removing an animal from an abusive situation is a sufficient solution. Abusers are often known to be violent and many witnesses choose not to testify out of fear of retaliation. Prosecutors must contend with reluctant witnesses in order to convict an animal abuser.

1. District of Columbia
As in most other states, prosecutors in D.C. must contend with reluctant witnesses in animal cruelty cases. But witness reluctance is only an issue when the primary witness for the government is not the WHS Humane Officer (HO). Because the HO is typically the first to respond to a complaint of neglect, the HO can establish through observation and documentation–without assistance from the neighbor who may have initiated the complaint–that the animal was severely neglected.

In cases that involve dogfighting or other forms of physical abuse, however, civilian witnesses are essential because the HO cannot witness the act of beating or facilitating the dogfights. In those cases even if the civilian witness is willing to testify for the prosecution, it is not unusual for the defense to file for a continuance, and in the interim between hearings dates, witnesses occasionally disappears or becomes unavailable.

2. Maryland
Witness reluctance is also an issue in Maryland. Prosecutors, however, protect themselves against witnesses that change their mind due to fear of retaliation, for example, under a 1993 Maryland Supreme Court ruling, which has been codified in the Maryland Rules of Evidence. In Nance v. State, 331 Md. 549, 629 A.2d 333 (1993), the Maryland Supreme Court ruled that a previously recorded statement that is inconsistent with the testimony of the witness could be allowed into evidence if the statement satisfies one of three conditions: it was given under oath or threat of perjury prosecution, reduced to writing and signed by the declarant, or recorded verbatim by stenographic or electronic means at the same time the statement was made. In 1994, Maryland codified the holding of Nance into Maryland Rule 5-802.1. Consequently, investigators often take an immediate statement and have the witness sign it in order to gain the protection of Nance, and to avoid any future reluctance on the part of a witness.

3. Virginia
Although the incidence of reluctance may vary from county to county in Virginia, many witnesses are hesitant due to a fear of retaliation. Prosecutors have suggested two actions for overcoming reluctance, as well as decreasing the chances that retaliation will occur. First, prosecutors suggest that if the prosecutor (typically an assistant Commonwealth attorney) is involved from the first investigation, witnesses tend to have more faith that an abuser will be convicted, and the chances of retaliation will decrease. Second, authorities will conduct hazardous alerts—periodic police monitoring—on the property of the witness to guard against retaliatory attacks in the home.

Although these actions do not guarantee that a witness will testify, some prosecutors in Virginia have observed a decrease in witness reluctance as a result.

C. General v. Specific Intent
Prosecutors often prove the intent required to support a felony charge in an animal abuse case through circumstantial evidence, which makes it more difficult to prove than the direct evidence used to prove a physical act. Indeed, a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. stated that prosecuting a felony, which requires an elevated level of intent and argument before a jury, is more difficult than prosecuting a misdemeanor, which requires a lesser form of intent and is argued before a judge. Consequently, ALDF recommends filing both misdemeanor and felony charges. Without doubt, an intent requirement often influences, or at the very least is considered by, a prosecutor deciding whether to file charges in an animal abuse case.

Where the law requires proof of a “specific”, rather then “general,” intent, prosecutors face an extra hurdle when pursuing a felony conviction. If a statute or court indicates that only a “general” intent is required, the prosecutor must show only that the accused intended to carry out the act. On the other hand, if proof of a “specific” intent is required, the prosecutor must show that the accused intended to commit serious bodily injury to the animal, and that the harm was not, for example, the result of an overzealous attempt to discipline the animal.

1. District of Columbia
Under the D.C. Code, an act of cruelty against an animal is a misdemeanor, unless the act is carried out “with the intent to commit serious bodily injury or death to an animal” or “extreme indifference to animal life.” The Code, however, does not designate whether the intent must be specific or general.

In 1990, the D.C. Court of Appeals in Regalado v. United States found that only general intent is required. In Regalado, a man convicted of a felony for cruelly beating his dog filed an appeal in which he argued that the government had not proved that he had the specific intent to injure the dog. Because the statute was (and is) silent as to what type of intent is required, the court found that only a general intent must be proven as part of a felony conviction. As part of its justification, the court compared the D.C. Code provisions that shield animals from cruelty to those provisions that shield children from abuse. In affirming the conviction, the court concluded that only a general intent with malice was required and found that malice was present.

2. Maryland
In Maryland, a person commits a felony act of cruelty if she “intentionally mutilate[s], torture[s], cruelly beat[s], or cruelly kill[s] an animal.” Thus, prosecutors must prove that the accused carried out the act with intent. The statute, however, does not indicate whether the intent required is general or specific.

3. Virginia
Although one of the activities listed in the Virginia statute prohibits a person from “willfully inflict[ing] inhumane injury or pain” on an animal, it is the only item in the list that includes the word “intent.” Unlike the D.C. Code, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is not the presence of intent. A violation becomes a felony when it constitutes a second conviction for committing a prohibited activity or when it results in the death of an animal. Consequently, intent does not pose a problem to prosecutors seeking a felony conviction unless the specific crime is the willful infliction of pain. In that case, it seems that prosecutors must demonstrate a specific intent to harm.

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VII. Sentencing
In addition to jail time, fines, and therapy/counseling (discussed below) as punishment in animal cruelty cases, judges may imposes other forms of sentencing on offenders. These can include community service, anger management, drug treatment, weekend jail, or a probationary period where the offender is not allowed to own any animals.

A. Jail Time and Fines (Misdemeanor v. Felony Revisited)
1. District of Columbia
In D.C., an act of animal cruelty without the requisite intent to commit serious bodily injury to an animal is a misdemeanor and will result in up to 180 days in jail or a maximum fine of $250, or both. If the intent to injure is found, the offense becomes a felony and is punishable by a prison sentence of five years or less and a maximum fine of $25,000 or both.

2. Maryland
In Maryland, any one of the prohibited activities listed in Section 10-604 (which does not require intent) is a misdemeanor and carries a prison sentence of 90 days or less and a fine not to exceed 1,000, or both. More aggravated and intentional cruel acts, such as mutilation, constitute a felony and Maryland courts may sentence an offender for up to three years and a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both. Also, in Maryland, the owner of an animal who suffers death or serious injury can recover civil damages of up to $5,000.

3. Virginia
In Virginia, a first offense that does not result in the death of an animal is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of twelve months or less and a fine of up to $2500 or both. A person committing a second offense, or if the animal dies as a result of the first offense, is guilty of a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or, in the alternative, a prison sentence of less than a year or a maximum fine of $2500 or both. In addition, the owner of a dog or cat injured or killed as a result of cruelty is entitled to a damage award for the value of the animal or the damage done.

B. Therapy and Counseling
Animal abuse, like child abuse, typically involves the infliction of pain on a defenseless being, and as such, has been connected with other psychological maladies. Consequently, more than half of the U.S. states permit or mandate psychological counseling as a means to address the root cause of the abuse so that it does not occur again or lead to other forms of cruelty.

1. District of Columbia
The D.C. Code does not prescribe therapy as a punishment for animal cruelty.

2. Maryland
Both the felony and misdemeanor provisions of the Maryland statute allow a sentencing court to impose psychological counseling at the offender’s expense.

3. Virginia
In Virginia, a court has the discretion to require a person convicted of a misdemeanor (first-time offense that does not result in the death of the animal) “to attend anger management or other appropriate treatment program or obtain psychiatric counseling” at the expense of the offender.

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VIII. Possible Link to Human Violence
Many animal advocates believe that a connection exists between violence towards animals and violence towards humans. These advocates cite scientific studies, as well as anecdotal evidence that serial killers typically witness or commit animal abuse as children or adolescents before murdering humans later in life. For a brief summary of these studies and arguments, see Dana Campbell, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Legal Advocates’ Manual for Animal Abuse Criminal Cases at 35-37. For a more thorough explanation, see Margit Livingston, Desecrating the Ark: Animal Abuse and the Law’s Role in Prevention, 87 Iowa L. Rev. 1 (2001).

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Conclusion
Because animal abuse cases are not tracked nationally, the actual frequency at which incidents of animal cruelty occur is unknown. Animal advocacy groups have petitioned the FBI and other government bodies to include animal cruelty crimes in current and future national crime databases. For now, however, incidents of animal cruelty are reported only at a local level.

In D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, anti-cruelty laws exist to protect animals from senseless abuse. Without diligent reporting, investigation, enforcement, and prosecution, these laws will not stem the tide of animal cruelty.

Anyone can report animal cruelty. If you wish to report an act of animal cruelty, aid in the enforcement of anti-cruelty laws, or simply have further questions about animal cruelty, do not hesitate to contact local law enforcement, the local office of the Humane Society, Animal Services, or Animal Control. In an emergency, dial 911.

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Sources of Additional Information

D.C. Regulations

  • Title 24 D.C. Municipal Regulations, Chapter 9 - Animal Control
  • D.C. Code Title 8, Chapter 18 - Animal Control
  • D.C. Code Title 8, Chapter 19 - Dangerous Dogs

Maryland Regulations

  • MD Code, Criminal Law, § 10-619 – Dangerous Dogs
  • MD Code, Courts and Judicial Process, § 11-110 – Tort Damages for Loss or Injury to Pet
  • MD Code, Natural Resources, § 10-2A-01 thru -09 (2002) – Endangered Species
  • MD Code, Art. 24, § 11-510 – Licensing

Virginia Regulations

  • VA Code Ann., §3.1-796.93:1 – Licensing Dogs/ Dangerous Dogs
  • VA Code Ann., §§3.1-796.66 thru :87 – Consolidated Dog Laws
  • VA Code Ann., §29.1-563-71 – Endangered Species
  • VA Code Ann., §§3.1-796.96:1 thru :2, :5, :7 – Animal Shelters and Impounding
  • VA Code Ann., §§3.1-796.85 thru .87 – Licensing

Cases

  • Amons v. District of Columbia, 231 F. Supp. 109 (D.D.C. 2002).
  • Regalado v. United States, 572 A.2d 416 (D.C. 1990).
  • Tuck v. United States, 477 A.2d 1115 (D.C. 1984).
  • Silver v. United States, 726 A.2d 191 (D.C. 1999).
  • Carr v. United States, 585 A.2d 158 (D.C. 1991).
  • Coroneos v. Montgomery County, 869 A.2d 410 (D.C. 2005).
  • Taub v. Maryland, 462 A.2d 819 (Md. Ct. App. 1983).
  • Cahill v. Montgomery County, 528 A.2d 527 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1987).
  • In re William G, 447 A.2d 493 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1982).
  • Buskey v. Commonwealth, No. 0919-02-1, 2003 WL 1873643 (Va. Ct. App.
    April 15, 2003).
  • Hillman v. Commonwealth, No. 1211-01-3, Memorandum Opinion (Ct. App. Va.
    April 2, 2002).

Federal Laws

  • Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 7 U.S.C. §§ 2131, et seq.

National Organizations

Local Organizations