Indeed, humankind is the dominating animal species on this planet. However, this does not warrant that it is fine or acceptable to abuse any other mammal, reptile, fish, bird, or amphibian creatures situated below that hierarchy. The law recognizes that it is our responsibility, as a more knowledgeable species, to protect the rights of other living beings who share and use the same resources as we do. That is not to say that animals depend on our mercy and control or that they are not smart enough to survive on their own. Animals are smarter than we think they are, it is just that some people fail to respect or acknowledge the fact that they deserve to live free and safe from harm.
With that in mind, California Penal Code PC 597 aims to hold anyone accountable for actions that could put any animal in danger. More specifically, it is unlawful for any individual to:
- Overwork; and/or
- Deprive an animal of its basic needs (i.e. water, food, shelter)
All of these violent acts must be motivated with deliberate intent to cause an injury, physical pain, or suffering to the animal. If, for example, you are simply incapable of providing for the needs of the animal due to loss of income or physical disability, you are not necessarily guilty of animal abuse. Common examples of animal cruelty are:
- Leaving a pet inside an unattended vehicle;
- Having sexual contact with an animal;
- Poisoning the animal;
- Locking a pet inside your home without sufficient food or water;
- Transporting an animal in a manner that completely disregards their safety and well-being;
- Burying an animal alive;
- Pouring highly-destructive substances such as boiling water or acid; and
- Beating the animal cruelly.
Some of the aforementioned cases have its corresponding California codes which can be charged on top of PC 597. We will discuss those related laws below.
California Laws Related to PC 597
Animal abuse is a crime that encompasses many different types of offenses, such as:
- Sexually Assaulting an Animal (California Penal Code PC 286.5). It is illegal to conduct sexual acts with an animal for sexual gratification, entertainment, or financial gain. This does not include medically and professionally licensed practices such as breeding, neutering, raising, or assisting the animal to give birth to its offspring.
- Killing or Injuring an Animal (California Penal Code PC 384h). It is illegal to murder, injure, or maim any animal within the property of another individual. This only applies to hunting activities.
- Animal Fighting (California Penal Code PC 597b). It is illegal to coerce or put an animal in a situation wherein it is required to defend itself against another animal for entertainment or financial gain. A separate law has been enacted solely for dogfighting.
- Neglect of an Animal (California Penal Code PC 597f). It is illegal for a pet owner or a lawful custodian of an animal to refuse to give an animal the proper care and attention it needs in order to survive.
- Sell an Animal for Commercial Purposes (California Penal Code PC 597.4). It is illegal to sell, give away, display, or offer an animal on any street, highway, public right-of-way, parking lot, carnival, or boardwalk.
- Injure a Police Dog or Guide Dog (California Penal Code PC 600, 600.2, and 600.5). It is illegal for any person to willfully or maliciously cause injury or wrongful death to a police dog or a guide dog, whether it is done by the defendant’s pet or the defendant himself.
Penalties to Animal Cruelty
An animal cruelty charge can either be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony offense depending on the nature or facts of the case.
For a misdemeanor, the penalties are:
- A maximum sentence of 1 year in county jail, and/or
- A fine not more than $20,000
For a felony, the penalties are:
- Imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years, and/or
- A fine of not more than $20,000
Keep in mind that additional punishments may be added on top of the aforementioned consequences especially if you commit more than one crime in one act.
Legal Defenses for Animal Cruelty Charge
A good criminal defense attorney will look at the facts of your case and decide which defense is best for you, but a great criminal defense attorney will discuss all the possible defenses that you can use in court. This is, after all, a team effort to avoid irreversible damages to you and your future.
The most common defenses used against an animal cruelty charge are:
- You injured or killed the animal out of self-defense;
- You had no means to support the animal’s basic needs;
- You are not responsible for the animal;
- You had no ill-intent