Great News in Oregon: Each Animal Counts!

Posted by Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program on August 3, 2012

In a mass animal neglect case in which ALDF filed an amicus brief in support of the state’s appeal, we just got a fantastic result from the Oregon Court of Appeals. The case is State v. Nix and the facts are simple. In 2008-2009 the defendant neglected many horses in Umatilla County.  In March of 2010 the defendant was tried on multiple charges of animal neglect (each count alleging the same timeframe and thus the conduct was treated as one criminal episode).

The jury convicted the defendant of 20 separate counts of animal neglect involving 20 individual horses. At sentencing, the trial court adopted the defendant’s argument that animals are not legal persons and as such they cannot be considered “victims.” Thus, under Oregon law, the argument goes, the state is the only victim, which means that the defendant can only be punished for one count of animal neglect (the remaining 19 counts must all “merge” into the first count). The practical results from the trial court’s ruling include: the defendant only has to pay one fine rather than 20; the defendant can only serve one jail term rather than multiple, consecutive terms; and with just one conviction on the books, the defendant would be eligible to wipe his criminal record clean (a process called expungement).

The State of Oregon appealed this ruling and asked ALDF to consider filing a brief as well–we were delighted to do so. In an opinion issued on August 1, 2012, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, adopting some key arguments we made in support of the state’s case, e.g.: (1) a significant component in the test to determine a “victim” is to evaluate the substantive statute and identify the person or being who suffered the harm that is at the core of the underlying crime; (2) Oregon’s post-verdict forfeiture and lien laws evidence a legislative intent to treat animals as something other than mere property of a human, and there is a broader public interest in their health, care, and well-being–holding that “In short, based on the text and context of ORS 167.325 [the animal neglect statute at issue], it appears that the legislature’s primary concern was to protect individual animals as sentient beings, rather than to vindicate the more generalized public interests in their welfare”; and (3) to adopt the defendant’s rationale would produce rather inconsistent results (e.g., cases of mass neglect where each animal was the property of a different owner would produce more punishable crimes than if, as was the circumstance in the Nix case, all of the animals were owned by the same person).

This is a very good opinion for animals–recognizing their sentiency as a compelling interest over and above the general public interest associated with crimes related to “keeping the peace.” In Oregon, this opinion will ensure that those offenders who harm multiple animals will be exposed to separate and distinct punishment for each victim animal who suffered under the offender’s charge. Further, it will help prosecutors reverse adverse rulings in states like Michigan [People v. Kruithoff, 242739, 2003 WL 22961698 (Mich. Ct. App. 2003) (a dog is legally an animal and not a person and it cannot qualify as a victim within the meaning of the legislative sentencing guidelines)] and Wyoming [Amrein v. State, 836 P.2d 862 (Wyo. 1992) (ruling that the trial court violated defendant’s double jeopardy rights in convicting him of separate counts for neglect of nine animals; Wyoming Supreme Court found that the failure to feed all animals gave rise to only one cruelty count and noted that “[a]s a general proposition, with few exceptions, in crimes against the person, when contrasted with crimes against property, there are as many offenses as individuals affected”)].

Please join me in congratulating the state’s appellate attorney, Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras, for a job well done.


46 thoughts on “Great News in Oregon: Each Animal Counts!

  1. Ian says:

    So glad Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras made this ruling. Congratulations!

  2. michelle says:

    Congratulations to all involved. A very good step in the right direction

  3. Jamie Contreras says:

    Thanks, Scott! I’m so pleased with the opinion. I appreciate all of your help and encouragement throughout this (painfully) long process!

  4. Eileen Jewett says:

    This is terrific news!!! THANK YOU for a job well done!

  5. Gloria Archuleta says:

    Thank you, Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras, and ALDF for caring and fighting for the rights of our non-human animal friends! Well done!

  6. Marilee Reyes, Eugene, Oregon says:

    I believe it was Ghandi who said a nation can be judged by how it treats its animals.” I am glad to live in a state that is advancing itself towards a more humane treatment of animals. Thank you.

  7. Steven E. Carpenter says:

    First sentimental value for companion animals in Texas and Denver, now this. Great work ALDF.

  8. Kolo says:

    Thank you and congratulations to Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras for doing the right thing.

  9. kabob says:

    So based upon this ruling, if an accident occured wherein a vehicle hit a dog, and the result was the death of the animal, then the driver would be charged with vehicilar manslaughter? Hmmm, taking this way too far, while the results of an animal being harmed are sad, emotional, and yes in some cases heinous, there is a distinct difference between humans and animals. So call me a speciest. . .

  10. Peter Wood says:

    Congrats and thank you!

  11. Edna Power says:

    I would like to Thank Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras for making the above ruling, a job certainly well done. Also thank you for having such a big heart for our beautiful, wonderful animals.

  12. joyce mennis says:

    It makes me so proud to live in a state that values animals. Yay for Oregon and our justice system. Thank you.

  13. kasia skwarcan says:

    This is what human progress is about, well done Oregon, i hope other states and countries apply this logic and stop the cruelty towards animals. Amazing work everyone who fought this. xoxoxoxox

  14. Bob says:

    ALDF proved that if corporations can be considered to be people then (other non-human) animals can be to. Thank you ALDF for standing up and being the voice for all animals.

  15. Laura says:

    Thank you for making this huge step towards the importance of recognizing that animals are victims of cruelty.

  16. Dani Hy Dennenberg says:

    Very grateful for your work on this case. How triumphant! Makes me proud to be an Oregonian.

  17. Diana Smith Hill says:

    Congratulations on this ruling! I would however like all the planets beings considered as people and not animals. In fact people are the animals, most creatures are docile and should have the same rights as children and persecuted to the same extent that child protection laws allow.

  18. Remy Miller says:

    Oh, this is fantastic. Precedent is so important. Go State of Oregon and its Assistant Attorney General!

  19. Tony Porcaro says:

    Wonderful news and a major step in the work towards granting some degree of personhhod to our fellow creatures and realizing that each and every animal possesses inherent worth; while many disciplines are involved in the animal rights cause such as philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and theologians, it may very well be that our lawyers will be the ones to spearhead major changes in the laws respecting animals and in thus changing societal and legal attitudes; deep appreciation to all those involved in this case and let’s wish Steven Wise and the non-human rights project similar success in the coming year.

  20. The majority view says:

    Texas did not recognize the emotional value of the animal only the commercial value. The owner did not get to sue for emotional distress.
    This is going too far. Animals are not the sentient beings you think.
    The Harvard professor upon whose research this idea is based has been fired for purposely faking studies regarding the monkey’s ability to think or behavior in a moral way. Animals kill for fun ever watch a cat toy with its prey or watch wolves tear through a herd of sheep. The idea that these animals should be accorded the status of anything other than property is wrong and anti human which most of you seem to be. As usual lawyers are the low life of the food chain as they are only doing this for the money as is HSUS and PeTA.

  21. Judy says:

    Thank you for all you do for these helpless animals. They certainly don’t deserve to be treated with such disrespect for life!!!!

  22. Patti says:

    Thank you so much for recognizing that all living creatures have an inherent value! You are to be commended for your actions!

  23. Elizabeth says:

    Fantastic well done and thank you to all those who worked so hard to get this significant step forward in the law made.

  24. Jessica Bell says:

    Great news! Also it is great timing with major scientists recently signing a declaration on the presence of animal consciousness.

  25. Carol says:

    A huge thank you to the state of Oregon and everyone who helped prosecute this case. It has allowed real progress in treating all living beings with respect, something that should be a “given” on this planet, but, sadly, is not. Well done!

  26. gabriella taylor says:

    Thank you SO much; this (the counting of INDIVIDUAL animals’ plights) is real PROGRESS!

  27. Shelly Peterson says:

    Fantastic! thank you so very much! May every State in our Union, follow your lead! Sincerely, Shelly Peterson, Washington State, USA

  28. Smita asrani says:

    Judge Jaime you’re a true inspiration and a leader. Thank you for bringing justice to the animals and setting such a wonderful example.

  29. Paula Denmon says:

    Thanks so much for the effort. Each decision for the animals gives us hope in every state (even here in Texas). I appreciate that this takes time, money and so much effort on many persons’ parts. Now I can only say thanks, but will also remember this effort with a donation asap.

  30. Patricia says:

    Bonjour de France
    je suis trés heureuse que vous ayiez agi pour le bien etre des chevaux
    en effet ces animaux sont victimes de toutes les dérives
    protéger un animal c’est comme poser une brique de gentillesse dans ce monde pourri
    Merci Monsieur pour votre action
    bien amicalement
    Patricia

  31. Shirley Zutes says:

    I work hard and so many others do for the benefit of animal welfare. Thank you so much for helping the cause. In appreciation, thank you again.

  32. Debbie says:

    Assistant Attorney General Jamie Contreras:

    You deserve all the praise in the world for your help for these innocent, mistreated animals!!

    The animals can not thank you, so I will.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you so very much for everything you did for these animals.

  33. linda badham says:

    this has made my day. i have rescued animals all my life and the cruelty has risen so much that i find it difficult to be happy. when read this it gives me hope. thank you.

  34. kristi says:

    This is wonderful. I am glad people are starting to see animals as sentient beings, not just property! Thank you for standing up for those who could not protect themselves! Job WELL DONE!

  35. Bobbi H says:

    Since people are the animal’s voice, this is a wonderful decision!! So glad for all involved.

  36. Marjie Conner says:

    Congratulations ….and may all other 49 states be done the same way.

  37. Regina Tague says:

    Thank you so much for all you do. There is much to be done, and you all do so much. I can’t thank you enough. The only way i can help you is to donate, which i will do shortly.
    If more attorneys would give their time and effort as you do, so much could be done for the animals in every state. There’s always hope. Thank you again.

  38. Carla M. Crews says:

    Even though I reside in Utah now, I am so proud to say I was born and raised in Coos Bay Oregon. Thank You.

  39. deb says:

    A very big thank you for a very big care and concern for the animals and the issue of abuse. More people should do such great work and with dedication since we have to be their voice. People like you will help stop the abuse and cruelty these animals have to endure. I hope you don’t falter from your mission and always appreciate the unconventional love only animals can give us. Together we can fight to the end for their cause

  40. Alma Miranda says:

    Kudos to Jaime Contreras. Thank you so much.

  41. Thank you for having the courage and strength to go after animal abuser. We, animal advocates and lovers, hope every official, in every state and every country will follow you. God bless you

  42. Thank you so much, Jamie! Animal lovers can sleep a little easier at night knowing someone like you is on the job. I’m glad to see a victory in Oregon and hope that your work will serve as a shining example to other states.

  43. Debra Gordon says:

    thank you very much, Jamie, for the work you’ve done. To protect animals from the cruelty inflicted upon them at the hands of humans has given me heart. Now, to stop horse slaughterhouses from being operational in the US, and protect our horses from ever being transported to slaughter! Thank you again.

  44. Laureen Godin says:

    This is long overdue! Thank you for all the hard work! I would like to see the world follow suit! Animals are just like our children, they require food, attention and love!

  45. Donna Hart, Esq. says:

    Job well done!!!! I’m really proud of this prosecutor for taking these crimes seriously. Animals suffer just like people and deserve justice too. Keep up the good work.

  46. Mary says:

    Thank you, Jamie, for what you have done to help animals. Now we need to prevent the possibility of horse slaughter in the US again. We need to ensure that the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is passed–as well as the Moran Amendment.