Animal Attorneys Demand That Virginia Legislature Strengthen Prosecutors’ Ability to Combat DogfightingPosted on August 23, 2007
Proposed Amendment to State RICO Act Could Send Dogfighters to Jail for 40 Years
– The Animal Legal Defense Fund is approaching Virginia
legislators to back a proposed law that, if in place, could send
dogfighters like Michael Vick to jail for up to 40 years on a first
conviction. ALDF has drafted a recommended amendment to Virginia 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 Surry County 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 Virginia, a first conviction for racketeering
carries a maximum 40 year sentence (on a second conviction, the
defendant can get a life sentence); on its own, dogfighting is a “class
6” felony, allowing for only a five year maximum sentence.
ALDF is now actively seeking legislative support
for the proposed amendment among Virginia lawmakers, and are pushing
for a similar amendment in Georgia, home of Vick’s Atlanta Falcons.
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.