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Criminal Law

PACT Act is now federal law–but what does it really cover?

The PACT Act (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act) was signed into federal law yesterday! This is a great law that builds on 2010’s Animal Crush Prohibition Act by making any activity defined as “animal crushing” potentially a federal crime, whether or not the act is committed as part of a crush video.

Unfortunately, there are lots of misleading and confusing headlines on this law, including that the PACT Act:
“makes animal cruelty a federal felony”
“Mak[es] Cruelty To Animals A Federal Crime”
“Bans Cruelty”
“Make[s] Animal Abuse a Federal Offense”
is a “Sweeping Federal Ban on Animal Cruelty”
covers “Most animal cruelty”

The PACT Act does make some animal cruelty a federal offense, but it isn’t that simple! Here are the basics:

✏️ What is “Animal Crushing”?
➡️ Animal crushing commonly refers to extreme fetish videos depicting animal abuse—where small animals are crushed, ripped apart, burned, or otherwise tortured to death. Usually, this is designed for the sexual gratification of the viewer. In 2010, a federal law was passed that banned the creation or depiction of such videos/acts, but NOT the actual underlying act of animal cruelty.

✏️ What does the PACT Act cover?
➡️  It outlaws purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement and other purposeful acts that cause “serious bodily injury” to animals other than fish. It also prohibits some acts of sexual abuse against animals other than fish, but this particular provision seems to have a qualifier that such acts are only prohibited if committed in the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States” (federal property). The rest of the PACT Act applies to acts “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” in addition to federal property. This limitation on the jurisdiction of animal sexual abuse crimes seems to negatively affect the federal prosecution of, for example, bestiality videos that are distributed online.
➡️ It outlines exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping, and fishing; medical and scientific research; normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice; unintentional acts; and acts that are necessary to protect the life or property of a person.
➡️ It does not apply to anything other than the specific acts of cruelty listed above.
➡️ It does not cover all acts of animal cruelty.
➡️ It does not cover acts of neglect, abandonment, extreme weather, filthy conditions, or tethering issues.
➡️ It does not cover “puppy mill” issues.

✏️ Does the PACT Act change state and local law?
➡️ No. An offender can only be prosecuted pursuant to the PACT Act if the criminal act occurs on federal property (ex: national parks, military bases) or “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” Federal property (“special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”) is defined in 8 subsections of 18 U.S.C. § 7: maritime jurisdiction, 18 U.S.C. §§ 7(1), 7(2); lands and buildings, 18 U.S.C. § 7(3); Guano Islands, 18 U.S.C. §7(4); aircraft, 18 U.S.C. § 7(5); spacecraft, 18 U.S.C. § 7(6); places outside the jurisdiction of any nation, 18 U.S.C. § 7(7); and foreign vessels en route to and from the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 7(8)).
➡️ The PACT Act was designed not to preempt or interfere with local/state animal cruelty laws or enforcement. The PACT Act is merely a federal overlay, exactly like the federal animal fighting law(s).

✏️ Who enforces the PACT Act?
➡️ Federal law enforcement in federal courts.

✏️ What are the possible punishments for violation of the PACT Act?
➡️ Violations could result in a fine and up to seven years’ imprisonment.

✏️ Does the PACT Act make all animal cruelty a felony?
➡️ No. As noted above, the PACT Act only applies in a narrow set of circumstances. State and local legislation to strengthen animal cruelty and neglect laws are still needed and very much necessary.

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Wauseon, Ohio man guilty of neglecting pony

State v. Andrew Fox, a case we prosecuted for the Toledo Area Humane Society in the Sylvania Municipal Court.

Andrew Fox was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty for neglecting the care of one horse and one pony. The animals were kept in filthy conditions. The issue of greatest concern was the fact that the pony had very long, overgrown hooves which made it difficult for the animal to walk normally, and caused unnecessary suffering.

Defendant voluntarily surrendered both animals to the Humane Society. Sentencing is scheduled for May 14, 2015.

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Cleveland cockfighter Carlos Diaz to serve six months in jail

State v. Carlos Diaz, a case we prosecuted for the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Diaz kept 15 roosters and hens in a filthy, sewage-filled basement. A number of the birds had untreated injuries, were underweight, or were otherwise ill. Food for the birds was scattered amongst the sewage, and no clean water was available.

Diaz admitted that he was training the roosters to fight. He further admitted that he sold and shipped the birds to Puerto Rico where they would be fought.

When the APL’s humane agents responded to Diaz’s residence, they found a fighting pen, where feathers were on the floor of the pen and blood was splattered on the walls. In addition, they found other items consistent with cockfighting: a timer, 3 pairs of rubber sparring pads, medications, performance-enhancing vitamins, salves, and syringes. Five pairs of spurs, razor-sharp knife-like devices strapped to roosters’ legs for causing damage to their opponent, were found wrapped in bloody adhesive tape (pictured here).

Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive, and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public, and is known to facilitate other crimes, such as illegal gambling, drug abuse and sales, and firearms offenses.

In 2008, Diaz was found guilty of illegal fights between animals under ORC 959.15, a fourth degree misdemeanor. His punishment was a $250.00 fine and court costs.

Diaz plead to and was found guilty of 11 counts related to cockfighting, animal cruelty/neglect, and possessing criminal tools.

Under a separate case number, Diaz plead no contest to an additional violation of the city’s urban farming law in relation to this case.

Judge Adrine sentenced Diaz to serve 6 months in jail, with an additional 1200 days suspended. Diaz must pay costs and complete 5 years of active probation, during which time he cannot possess any animals and must allow random inspections by the APL.

The birds were all rehabilitated.

cockfighting pit ohiocockfighting spurs ohiofighting bird ohio

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Dog beater convicted of animal cruelty in Cleveland

State v. William Congress, a case we prosecuted for the Cleveland APL in the Cleveland Municipal Court.

On Christmas Day, 2013, Congress sent a disturbing Facebook instant message to his roommate, who was out of town visiting family over the holidays. He admitted to beating the roommate’s dog, Caesar, because the dog damaged the floor of the apartment. The dog sustained bruises, cuts and a broken leg, requiring surgery.

Unfortunately, the roommate, a key witness in the case, fled to California without a forwarding address, and could not be summoned for trial. 

Congress entered a plea of no contest and was found guilty of one count of companion animal cruelty, a first degree misdemeanor. If he commits another such offense, it will be a felony. Congress is prohibited from possessing or owning any animals for 5 years, must complete a course in anger management and 200 hours of community service, and must pay $1500 restitution for veterinary costs. Congress may serve 6 months in jail if he violates these terms.

Caesar recovered fully and has been placed in a permanent home.

congress dog

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Pellet gun dog shooter convicted in Brunswick

State v. David Scott, a case we prosecuted for the Brunswick Hills Police Department.
Dog with gunshot
David Scott shot and killed a dog named Patches with a pellet gun. Patches was trespassing on his property, but the dog was at least 60 feet away from him and was in the act of departing the property. Scott claims that the dog was fighting with his own dog who was tethered just prior to the shooting. The officer examined Scott’s dog and saw no evidence of injuries.

Scott was found guilty of Injuring Animals, a 2nd degree misdemeanor.

This case presented some difficulties for a number of reasons. Generally, one cannot be convicted of an animal cruelty offense if the act was deemed to be “necessary” or “justifiable.” We knew that some people might find the shooting justifiable as a means for preventing future trespasses, especially since the weapon was a pellet gun, not a more powerful firearm. Pellet guns can be lethal, as in in this case, where the pellet penetrated the dog’s abdomen.

Defendant was fined $500 and was ordered to pay restitution to the owner of Patches.

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WCPN 90.3 Hosts Discussion on Goddard’s Law

Today Mike McIntyre of WCPN 90.3’s program The Sound of Ideas hosted a discussion on Goddard’s Law, Ohio H.B. 274. Attorney J. Jeffrey Holland, who drafted the initial Bill, was a featured guest.

Courtesy of WCPN 90.3, this program can be heard using the player below.

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Goddard’s Law Summary – Ohio Animal Cruelty Bill

Here is a summary of proposed Ohio House Bill 274: Holland & Muirden’s Summary of Goddard’s Law

“M” stands for misdemeanor.
“F” stands for felony.

In the state of Ohio, misdemeanors and felonies are categorized by degrees. Punishments for each degree are limited by Ohio law.

A felony of the fifth degree carries a maximum prison sentence of 6-12 months with a maximum fine of $2,500.

For a misdemeanor of the first degree, the highest degree of misdemeanor violation, offenders are not to serve more than six months in jail with a maximum fine of $1,000.

A second degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $750.

If passed, Ohio’s most serious animal cruelty crimes will be a felony on a first offense. Please write or call your Ohio Representative and Ohio State Senators and let them know that you want this law to pass.

House Bill No. 274 (aka “Goddard’s Law”; Introduced 9/30/13)
Sponsors: Representatives Bill Patmon (D-10) and Barbara Sears (R-47)
Cosponsors: Representatives Barnes, Cera, Lundy
Current Status: Introduced in the Ohio House on 9/30; Assigned to House Judiciary Committee on 10/1

Summary: To amend sections 959.131, 959.132, and 959.99 of the Revised Code to revise provisions and penalties regarding treatment of companion animals and to revise the definition of “companion animal” in the Offenses Relating to Domestic Animals Law.

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