Getting Tough On Dogfighting

Posted on May 21, 2009

Michael Vick, ex-quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was released from prison on May 20 after serving 23 months for financing "Bad Newz Kennels," his dogfighting operation, and viciously killing dogs that his kennel used in fights. Vick is returning to his home in Hampton, Virginia, to begin a period of supervised home confinement. The Michael Vick case made headlines around the nation-and around the globe-but as we know from the number of cases reported to ALDF week after week, dogfighting is a national epidemic. Sadly, unlike the high-profile Michael Vick case, most cases of dogfighting go unnoticed by the media, and find dogfighters receiving weak sentences if convicted.

Although animal fighting is illegal in all 50 states, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to make such crimes easier to prosecute and punishable by stronger penalties. ALDF has drafted a recommended amendment to state laws that would enable prosecutors to charge dogfighters under the respective state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (commonly referred to as "RICO") statute. Applied to animal fighting, RICO – which was originally designed to be a weapon against a wide variety of organized criminal efforts, including drug dealing and gambling – would give prosecutors increased muscle in seeking justice for the animals abused, and, as in the Vick case, even executed by their owners.

In 2008, the governor of Virginia signed into law a bill written by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and patroned by state Senator W. Roscoe Reynolds that adds organized dogfighting to the list of crimes that may be prosecuted under the state’s RICO laws. While dogfighting was already illegal in Virginia, the ability to bring a state RICO case now provides specific advantages to law enforcement overseeing dogfighting investigations in Virginia, including:

  • More comprehensive investigatory powers;
  • Extended statutes of limitations;
  • Longer sentences (in terms of both actual incarceration and the length of post-prison supervision);
  • Larger fines;
  • Pre-conviction "seize and freeze" of a defendant’s assets; and
  • Forfeiture of the assets used in, and gains generated from, the dogfighting activities.

At least 28 states currently have RICO statutes to which this amendment could be applied; in addition to Virginia, Oregon and Utah were the first two states to include animal fighting among the crimes that are RICO predicate acts. Take action by writing to your state legislators today about enacting or enhancing your state’s RICO law. ALDF can provide our model law that was enacted in Virginia and can also provide your legislators with a detailed legislative analysis of your state’s laws to provide customized solutions for your state. Send a letter to your state representatives now!

Help us put an end to dogfighting and create strong laws for animals so criminals like Michael Vick receive meaningful sentences! Contact your state legislators today!