Two Great Legal Victories for Animals in Oregon

Posted by Scott Heiser, Director and Lora Dunn, Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice Program on August 11, 2014

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August 7 was a busy day for animal lawyers in that the Oregon Supreme Court issued two important decisions: (1) State v. Nix, affirming the Oregon Court of Appeals decision by holding that animals who are abused by their owners are “victims” of those crimes, at least for sentencing purposes; and (2) State v. Fessenden/Dicke, ruling that the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement can apply to animal cruelty victims in imminent harm. ALDF had filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in the Court of Appeals in Nix and in the Oregon Supreme Court in Fessenden/Dicke. In the latter, we were joined by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA).

The Nix opinion tracks the logic of the Court of Appeals in large part and stands as a pillar for those who demand that our justice system recognizes animals as more than mere property by specifically holding that, for the purposes of Oregon’s anti-merger statute, ORS 161.067(2), animals abused by their owners are “victims.” The Court rooted its decision in legislative precedent and intent, finding that the Legislature’s goal in enacting the modern second-degree animal neglect statute, ORS 167.325, was “the treatment of individual animals, not harm to the public generally or harm to the owners of the animals.” Because the Oregon Legislature “regarded those animals [suffering from neglect] as the ‘victims’ of the offense,” the Court concluded that animals were likewise victims for purposes of merger. In reaching this conclusion, the Court cited the fact that ALDF funds a full-time, statewide prosecutor who is dedicated to handling only animal abuse cases in Oregon.

In State v. Fessenden/Dicke, the Court was exceptionally cautious in its approach, though it did ultimately reach the correct result. The Court found that an officer can seize an animal without a warrant when that officer has probable cause to believe the animal is a victim of cruelty and immediate action is necessary to prevent further imminent harm to the animal. In so ruling, the Court determined, for the first time in Oregon, that the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement under both the Oregon Constitution (Article I, Section 9) and the Fourth Amendment can apply to cases involving animal victims. In reaching its conclusion, the Court noted—just as ALDF had in its amicus brief—that other states already allow such warrantless seizure to prevent serious injury caused by criminal activity, including California, Montana, and Texas. However, in a disappointing move, the Court declined to decide whether the emergency aid exception applies to animals—an exception similar to the exigent circumstances exception in that it allows warrantless entry to save life, but does not require probable cause—even though the Court of Appeals had extended the emergency aid exception to animal life.

Significantly, the Court soundly rejected defendants’ contention that animal protection laws exist solely for human benefit; while animals are property, said the Court, today Oregon has one of the most comprehensive schemes of animal protection that was clearly enacted to protect animal victims, regardless of ownership. In emphasizing the strength of Oregon’s laws, the Court cited ALDF’s Rankings Report and the Legislature’s finding that “animals are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress and fear” as evidence of the ongoing evolution of the legal status of animals (legislation ALDF had help to draft and pass in 2013).

The facts of Fessenden/Dicke presented a clear case of imminent harm caused by criminal neglect: A veteran officer, experienced in animal cruelty cases, determined that the extremely emaciated horse required immediate seizure to survive and that there was not adequate time to obtain a warrant before the seizure. Based on the officer’s experience and his reasonable belief that the horse was a victim of cruelty, the Court ruled that his seizure of the dying horse was lawful under the exigent circumstances exception. The Court was careful to apply this exception to these specific facts, but explained that other circumstances may also trigger a similar application of the exception.

Our thanks and congratulations to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon Solicitor General Anna Joyce and Assistant Attorneys General Jamie Contreras and Pamela Walsh for their excellent work on these two important cases. Additionally, ALDF is so very grateful for the brilliant work of Virginia Coleman who was instrumental in preparing our amicus brief, and for the support of David LaBahn of the APA and Allie Philips of the NDAA in joining ALDF on this appeal.


23 thoughts on “Two Great Legal Victories for Animals in Oregon

  1. Jacqueline Daly says:

    Great news!

  2. Jacqueline Greene says:

    This is wonderful news. Congratulations and way to go, Oregon! Now let’s get some more states on board!

  3. Debbie Gates says:

    God Bless those of you with the ability to make a change, and the heart to do so. It’s those in power with the loudest voices, and we thank you for using them, this world can change

  4. April says:

    Thank you

  5. Cindy Christians says:

    You people are Awesome, You are Angels for the animals! Wonderful job…Love it!

  6. Elizabeth Fischer says:

    As a resident of Portland,OR, I am so happy to hear of this great progress. By the way, the Multnomah Country library system uses “pet guardian” not “owner” on their free bookmarks. (I have sent one to Elliot Katz.)

  7. Allison Bird says:

    This is fantastic news! Now can we go after the police officers who shoot dogs because they are “vicious”???

  8. Bout time we humans started acting human.
    Hope the new law snowballs or goes virale
    And covers all states . Oorraahhhhhhhhh

  9. LISA says:

    This is fantastic ! Finally we are heading in the right direction. Social media is a great way to get the Good News out there, raise awareness in seconds, and hopefully raise awareness world wide. Just because a culture has a particularly tradition or belief system does not warrant cruelty towards any living being, ever! YAY for the animals. Peace

  10. Héctor GARCIA says:

    At least something legal to protect animals against human cruelty. Fine

  11. Mellinger Severine says:

    Great News! Thank you.
    Tiere haben auch rechte. Diesen Erfolg wünsche ich mir überall auf der ganzen Welt. Ihr geht mit gutem Beispiel voran. That’s the right way! Danke

  12. Jody says:

    Where I live, its not how many laws there are. The ones already on the books are rarely enforced.

  13. Annie Amter says:

    So over due. It’s about
    time.

  14. Maureen Allen says:

    Historic decisions, setting precedents for universal understanding that human beings are not the only animals who are victims of crime.
    Another reason I choose Animal Legal Defense Fund as the one organization I can afford to support.

  15. Jane says:

    This is great news, but as a society we are moving way too slow toward enlightenment while animals in the billions are suffering for our shortcomings. We are a disgrace to have to be having these long-winded dialogues in legalese in order to arrive at the right thing to do. And it’s more often too little too late. I am ashamed to count myself human.

  16. Patricia Kinn says:

    Love the animals and protect them, this is right and good.

  17. Nancy Raymond says:

    This is a victory for animals but the abusers need to be punished on the same level as if it were a child. There is NO difference. Both are defenseless.

  18. Katie Asling says:

    Oregonian animal lovers should be very proud of their legislators!

  19. Stuart P. D. Fraser says:

    Fantastic result if only this could be world- wide thanks for the opportunity to comment… God bless

  20. Mary Pachas says:

    Very good news. Blessings to all who made this possible. The momentum is building to make no tolerance for cruelty,and no-kill shelters the norm. But as stated before,getting laws on the books is a huge first step,they must be enforced each and every time.

  21. Sheryl says:

    This is awesome! Now let’s all work together and go for a nationwide approach. Let’s make this law for all states!

  22. Val says:

    HUGE thanks to everyone who made this happen!!! :)