Animal Cruelty Cases Matter

Major Offenders

Animal cruelty is often times a warning sign for the future abuse of fellow humans and so it’s extremely important that law enforcement, judges and lawmakers understand this crucial connection. According to the publication Understanding The Link, published by the National Link Coalition’s Link Between Violence to People and Violence to Animals, 70 percent of animal abusers had criminal records, 50 percent of schoolyard shooters had histories of animal cruelty, 63 percent of aggressive criminals had deliberately inflicted harm on animals in childhood, and 48 percent of rapists and 30 percent of child molesters committed animal abuse in childhood or adolescence.  Almost all sexual homicide offenders reported having been cruel to animals. Law enforcement agencies across the country are finding that animal abuse is a better predictor of sexual assault than were previous convictions for homicide, arson or firearm offenses.

The State of Arizona addresses animal cruelty in Arizona Revised Statute §13-2910.  However, despite the variety of ways that one can commit intentional or knowing acts of animal cruelty, the harshest offenses carry the lowest felony classification – a class 6 felony.  This applies to circumstances such as where a person deliberately leaves a dog tied up in the summer with no water or shelter, is dealt with in the same manner as an individual who intentionally or knowingly subjects an animal to “cruel mistreatment,” for example someone who tortures a dog and kills them with their bare hands in front of others.  Because these types of offenses are classified as Class 6 felonies, courts can and often do treat them as misdemeanors and little or no further punishment is imposed. The remaining offenses in the statute—several of which require criminally reckless conduct—are treated as misdemeanors to begin with.  Further, conduct such as animal hoarding is not specifically criminalized by statute, leaving law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to adapt the facts of a particular case to the existing cruelty subsections.   

Failing to properly hold those who commit intentional or knowing acts of horrific animal cruelty accountable sends the wrong message to would be offenders and leaves a false impression that law enforcement and our community does not take these types of crimes seriously. It’s time for us to update our laws to reflect the seriousness of these offenses.

To hear County Attorney Bill Montgomery talk about current state legislation that would elevate the level of felony for these crimes, visit MCAO TV at:

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