The Prosecution of Animal Cruelty Cases – An Ethical ImperativePosted by Geoff Fleck, ALDF Attorney on May 29, 2012
I’ve written in the past about how important it is for animal cruelty prosecutors to "take the high road" and be scrupulously ethical.1 I stand by what I’ve said. But as I’ve studied and considered the issue further, it has occurred to me that an even more fundamental ethical issue presents itself with disturbing frequency – the failure of prosecutors to prosecute animal cruelty adequately or at all (usually citing overwork and/or the prioritization of human victim crimes). I conclude that it is not only a dereliction of duty for prosecutors not to aggressively prosecute animal cruelty cases, but that it is unethical as well.2
For what more noble service does the State offer than protection of the weak from the strong, the shelter of those politically disenfranchised from those in power, and the defense of the vulnerable against the tyranny of bullies? That’s what prosecutors do, or at least what they should do. It seems to me that this is the most important justification for their existence. They are the valiant defenders of victims’ rights no matter what the reason for the victim’s vulnerability – be it poverty, race, gender, age, physical or mental weakness or, I suggest, species. Violence is violence. Abuse is abuse. It has been proven beyond all doubt that the violent crimes of domestic battery, child abuse, abuse of the elderly, hate crimes, and animal cruelty are inextricably intertwined at both practical and philosophical levels. The empirical data is compelling.
Animal cruelty presents a five-time risk of violent crime against humans.3 75% of all violent offenders have prior records of cruelty to animals.4 25% of all “aggressive inmates” have committed five or more acts of animal cruelty as children.5 In families investigated for child abuse, 60% revealed pet abuse.6 Childhood cruelty to animals is an important predictor of later antisocial and aggressive acts and that children showing these behaviors, without intervention, are at risk for enduring disorders in conduct and mental health.7 In three surveys in women’s shelters in Wisconsin and Utah an average of 74% of pet-owning women reported that a pet had been threatened, injured, or killed by their abuser.8 The 1995 Utah survey also found that children witnessed animal abuse in over 60% of the cases, and 32% of women reported that one or more of their children hurt or killed a pet.9
Let’s take a basic description of "ethics:" “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad or right and wrong…” [Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1993].
In light of the irrefutable link between animal cruelty and human violence – especially domestic and child abuse – prosecuting acts of violence against animals addresses exactly the same issue as prosecuting abuses against humans. They are but two sides of the same coin. I predict that aggressive animal cruelty prosecutions will directly affect the number and frequency of related human violence crimes. If a prosecutor attends to his responsibility to prosecute animal abusers, I further predict that he or she will see a reduction in the number of offenses against humans. So by embracing animal cruelty cases as crimes deserving of aggressive prosecution, a State or District Attorney’s caseload of violent crime will actually decrease over time.
When they fail to earnestly prosecute animal abuse crimes, prosecutors forfeit a golden opportunity to stem the extraordinary violence which permeates our society. It is a "bad" and "wrong" thing to do and, it is therefore, unethical. On the other hand, prosecuting animal cruelty cases is undeniably right.
- Ethical Considerations in the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty Cases, NDAA/NCPAA Vol. 2, No. 1, 2012
- The writer recently retired from a 15-year career as an assistant state attorney in Florida
- MSPCA & Northeastern University Study from 1975-1996)
- Hellman, D.S., & Blackman, N. (1966). Enuresis, fire setting, and cruelty to animals: A triad predictive of adult crime. American Journal of Psychiatry, 122, 1431-1435
- Kellert, S. R. & Felthous, A. R. (1985). Childhood cruelty toward animals among criminals and noncriminals. Human Relations, 38, 1113-1129
- DeViney, Dickert & Lockwood, 1983
- Becker & French, 2004; American Psychiatric Association, 1994
- Frank R. Ascione, 1995 and 1997
- Frank R. Ascione, 1995