Animal Attorneys Demand That Georgia Legislature Strengthen Prosecutors’ Ability to Combat Dogfighting

Posted on August 23, 2007

Proposed Amendment to State RICO Act Could Send Dogfighters to Jail for 20 Years

Atlanta, Ga. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund is
approaching Georgia legislators to back a proposed law that, if in
place, could send dogfighters like Michael Vick to jail for up to 20
years on a first conviction. ALDF has drafted a recommended amendment to
Georgia state law that would enable prosecutors to charge dogfighters
under the state RICO (“Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization
Act”) statute. RICO–a very powerful tool that prosecutors can use to
combat organized criminal operations–is commonly used to address a wide
variety of organized criminal efforts, including drug dealing,
gambling, and trading in child pornography.

Given the power to utilize a state RICO case in a
dogfighting operation, prosecutors would have increased muscle in
seeking justice for the animals abused, and, as in the Vick case, even
executed by their owners. While dogfighting is already illegal in 50
states and by federal law, the ability to bring a RICO case would
provide specific advantages to prosecutors overseeing dogfighting
investigations, including extended statutes of limitations, longer
sentences, and larger fines. Prosecutors also have the power to “seize
and freeze” defendant assets prior to conviction in a RICO case. If
Michael Vick’s charges had been part of a racketeering case, the
authorities could have seized the Virginia house he used for his kennel
operations and dogfights–a house he sold for well below market value
shortly after the first search warrant was executed.

“The vast majority of all dogfighting cases are
discovered as a collateral matter to some other type of criminal
investigation, be it a drug case, a gambling investigation or simply in
response to a 9-1-1 dispatch to a domestic disturbance,” says ALDF
Executive Director Stephen Wells.  “Adding dogfighting as a RICO
predicate would give law enforcement and prosecutors an additional
tool, and strong incentive, to start directly targeting organized
dogfighting rings–not to mention that it would send a very strong
message to the dogfighting community that the stakes just got
substantially higher.” In Georgia, a first conviction for racketeering
carries a maximum 20 year sentence; on its own, a dogfighting charge
allows for only a five year maximum sentence.

ALDF is now actively seeking legislative support
for the proposed amendment among Georgia lawmakers, and are pushing for
a similar amendment in Virginia, where Vick’s dogfighting operation was
located. Such an amendment could eventually be applied in each of the
32 states that have RICO laws and even in the case of the federal RICO
Act. Currently, Oregon is the only state that specifically includes
dogfighting in its list of RICO predicate acts.

Also see what ALDF is doing to combat dogfighting in Virginia.

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