Animal abuse and neglect is not uncommon but it is very hard to police since it’s not widely reported. In order to understand the legal repercussions, it’s important to understand the definition of animal abuse, which covers a broad range of conduct. Animal cruelty happens whenever an animal is physically abused or neglected, like deprived of food, water, shelter or veterinary services.
California, leading the nation by enacting the strictest laws punishing abuse of animals, has over 50 different laws. But because it is hard for law enforcement to witness these crimes, it is important for shelters and other 3rd parties to report such crimes. All of the 50 laws aim to prohibit maliciously, intentionally or cruelly maiming, mutilating, torturing or wounding a living animal; killing an animal; depriving an animal of necessary food, drink or shelter; or riding, driving or overworking an animal.
Many California animal abuse laws are misdemeanors but penalties depend on the exact animal crime you committed. Some cases are known as “wobblers” which means it could either be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific facts of the case and your criminal history. If convicted as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and a maximum of $20,000 fine. If a felony, you face anywhere from 16 months to three years in California state prison and $20,000 fine.
Additional penalties could include removing animals permanently from your care, paying the associated costs of housing the animals, completing court-ordered counseling and an additional one-year state prison sentence if the offense involved the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon. Even though California leads the nation in animal rights, lobbyists continue to push for harsher legislation.
This political pressure and activism often leads to hasty police investigations and overzealous prosecutions, which in turn leads to wrongful prosecution of innocent people. If you are charged with animal cruelty, contact an experienced attorney who knows the most effective ways to convince prosecutors, judges and juries that your unjust charges should be reduced or dismissed.