Double Jeopardy for Abused Animals

Posted on January 31, 2007

(Portland, Oregon)

ALDF has joined a lawsuit to reverse an Oregon
ballot measure meant to protect the rights of criminal defendants, but
which sentences already abused and neglected companion animals to
drawn-out stretches behind bars in overburdened shelters.

The double whammy for mistreated animals is a negative side effect of
Measure 3, an amendment to the state constitution approved by Oregon
voters last November. Known as the Property Protection Act, the civil
liberties-minded measure prohibits the state from confiscating
defendants’ property before they’ve been convicted of a crime.

Unfortunately — because American courts view animals as possessions, no
different from furniture or household appliances — the change also lets
defendants charged with abusing or neglecting animals retain
"ownership" of their victims. In practice, this means that instead of
placing mistreated animals for adoption, the state must keep them
warehoused in shelters until the conclusion of the case — a process
that can take months or even years.

Stephan Otto, an attorney with ALDF’s Anti-Cruelty Division in
Portland, Ore., saw the impact first-hand when he supported an effort
to allow 53 animals seized in a neglect case — 19 dogs, 11 cats, 19
birds and four marsupials — to be placed with good homes. The judge,
citing Measure 3, sent them instead to a shelter for an indefinite stay.

"Oregon’s voters never meant to add to the suffering of abused and
neglected animals," Otto said. "They want due process for criminal
defendants, but they also want justice for animals. Measure 3 was a
mistake.

"The animal forfeiture law in effect before Measure 3 had built-in
safeguards to protect innocent people, and at the same time allowed us
to help reduce the suffering of mistreated animals," he said. "Now we
have nothing."

In addition to suing to overturn the measure, ALDF is supporting a move
in the state legislature to send the issue back to the voters for
clarification.


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