ALDF Takes on Missouri Bill Proposing Animals Cannot Receive Similar Legal Protections as Humans

Posted on March 22, 2012

Representative Ward Franz’s HB 1513 Would Throw State’s Historic Animal Protection Laws into Question, Provide New Defenses to Animal Abusers

For immediate release

Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund

San Francisco – The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has sent an urgent alert to its Missouri members, urging them to contact their state representatives expressing their opposition to State Representative Ward Franz’s (R-West Plains) bill HB 1513, which would write a provision into state law that states that animals shall not have any rights that are “equivalent” to or that exceed the rights of human beings. If passed, the bill would throw the state’s animal cruelty laws into uncertainty and confusion, potentially eliminating all animals’ rights to be free from abuse, cruelty, and neglect, simply because those rights are “equivalent” to the rights Missouri also “confers by law upon a human being.”

Why are animal attorneys and advocates barking mad about Franz’s HB 1513? Because Missouri’s historic state animal cruelty laws place legal duties on humans, duties that protect animals, the law is premised on animals having certain rights – rights to be free from abuse, cruelty, neglect, starvation, etc. Because those rights are equivalent to many of the rights Missouri law guarantees human beings, and children in particular, state animal cruelty laws will be thrown into doubt–do those laws grant equivalent rights? Do they grant greater rights?

“In Missouri both human beings and animals have a legal right not to be beaten,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Franz’s bill says animals cannot have the same right. That makes no sense.”

By attempting to change the traditional animal cruelty paradigm in order to score political points with factory farmers and puppy mill breeders, Franz is inadvertently handing every animal abuser in the state a legal defense. Attorneys defending animal abusers will have a heyday with the procedural issues HB 1513 would create–for instance, issues like consecutive sentencing and the State’s right to recover costs of care for animal victims–issues that are now standard elements of cruelty cases–could be thrown into question because the same procedures hold true for offenders with human victims.

“This takes relatively clear animal cruelty laws that could stop abusers in their tracks and intentionally adds an element of confusion, a technicality that could let abusers off the hook.” says Wells. “Franz has obviously never prosecuted an animal cruelty offense.” The passage of Franz’s bill would likely encourage dogfighters to set up shop in Missouri thanks to opportunities HB 1513 represents.

Further, it is common in death penalty cases to use a murderer’s history of animal abuse to predict future dangerousness. HB 1513 would create a huge issue in capital murder cases by giving the defense a basis to attempt to exclude a convicted murderer’s history of animal cruelty in the penalty phase of the murder trial–simply because a murderer’s history of violence to humans can also be considered during sentencing. With studies proving that one who abuses animals is five-times more likely to engage in other forms of violence directed at humans, any law that would prevent the fact finder from knowing the truth about a murderer’s history is dangerous public policy. 

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