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animal cruelty sentencing

Special sanctions for Ohio animal hoarders

Inside the ARC facility

The 11th District Court of Appeals upheld a number of notable, special sanctions in an animal hoarding case we prosecuted in the Willoughby Municipal Court for the Eastlake Police Department.

Facts:  Defendant Nadine Betchel operated a loosely organized nonprofit animal rescue operation called the Animal Resource Center in Eastlake, Ohio.  Officers executed a search warrant at the property.  Officers found 97 dogs and cats living in conditions of filth with high concentrations of urine and fecal ammonia.  Many were suffering from untreated medical issues.  All were deemed to be suffering unnecessarily by the veterinarian on scene and were removed and impounded at the Lake Humane Society.

Defendant was found guilty of eight counts of companion animal cruelty involving all 97 animals.

Here are the highlights from the Court of Appeals:

(a) A court may impose a lifetime ban on possessing companion animals.
(b) A court may order an offender to reimburse a humane society for costs of care and rehabilitation of victims of companion animal cruelty.
(c) $85,296.10 in restitution is not an unconstitutionally excessive fine, especially where the defendant makes efforts to prevent the humane society from adopting out the animals.
(d) A prosecution for companion animal cruelty does not require a finding of probable cause in an R.C. 959.132 civil forfeiture hearing. The two proceedings are separate and distinct.
(e) A court may only order 18 months in jail as the maximum term of consecutive misdemeanors.  If the trial court errs by ordering a longer term, the sentence may be simply modified and reduced to 18 months by the appellate court.

The Case:  State v. Bechtel, 11th Dist. Lake Nos. 2019-L-145, 2019-L-146, 2019-L-147, 2019-L-148, 2019-L-149, 2019-L-150, 2019-L-151, 2019-L-152, 2020-Ohio-4889

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Courts may order forfeiture of horses in animal cruelty case

On September 20, 2019, the 11th District Court of Appeals in Ohio held that a sentencing court may order an animal cruelty offender to forfeit horses as a condition of probation without going through the more cumbersome process of a full forfeiture proceeding.

The history of this case is complicated. Defendant Bianca Marcellino was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of animal cruelty for neglecting two horses, which were found to be emaciated and suffering from rain rot. Bianca Marcellino stated in a sworn affidavit that she was the sole owner of the horses. However, just before her sentencing hearing, Bianca’s mother, Karen Marcellino, filed a motion claiming to be the owner in an attempt to block forfeiture of the horses to the Geauga County Humane Society. The Court found that there was no evidence supporting Karen’s claim and ordered the horses to be forfeited.

The horses were rehabilitated by the Humane Society and placed in a new home. 

Karen filed an appeal. The Court of Appeals dismissed her case, finding that the case was moot, as the horses were already placed with a new home. State v. Marcellino, 11th Dist. Geauga Nos. 2019-G-0199, 2019-G-0200, 2019-Ohio-3329. Karen filed a motion to reconsider, claiming that there should have been a separate forfeiture proceeding beyond the sentencing in her daughter’s case.

The Court of Appeals denied the motion to reconsider. This appears to be the first appellate case in Ohio holding specifically that a sentencing court may order forfeiture of livestock as a condition of probation under R.C. 959.99(D) without further court proceedings.

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