Virginia Assembly Further Strengthens Dogfighting Laws

Posted on March 5, 2008

New Law Will Criminalize Organized Dogfighting, Allow Prosecutors to Charge Abusers Under RICO Laws

Chained dogRichmond, Va. – The Virginia Assembly approved legislation today
which criminalizes organized dogfighting, giving prosecutors increased
power to go after dogfighting operations as organized criminal
enterprises. The bill, written by the Animal Legal
Defense Fund (ALDF) and patroned by state Senator W. Roscoe Reynolds,
adds organized dogfighting to the list of crimes that may be prosecuted
under the state’s RICO ("Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization
Act") laws. The legislation now heads to Governor Tim Kaine for his
signature. On Monday, the Virginia Senate approved House Bill 656,
which included other provisions to toughen state animal fighting laws.

RICO–a powerful tool to combat organized criminal operations–has
historically been used to address a wide variety of organized criminal
efforts, including drug dealing, gambling, and trading in child
pornography. Given the option to utilize RICO in a dogfighting
operation, law enforcement authorities will now have increased
abilities in seeking justice for the animals abused, and, as in the
recent Michael Vick case, even killed by their owners. Currently,
Oregon is the only state that includes dogfighting among the crimes
that are RICO predicate acts.

While dogfighting is already illegal in Virginia, the ability to bring
a state RICO case would provide 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.

These are key legal tools in combating organized dogfighting rings –
highly organized and guarded criminal enterprises that are extremely
difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.

"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 911
dispatch to a domestic disturbance," says ALDF Executive Director
Stephen Wells. "Adding dogfighting as a RICO trigger gives law
enforcement additional tools, and a strong incentive, to start directly
targeting organized dogfighting rings–not to mention that it sends a
very strong message to the dogfighting community that the stakes just
got substantially higher. We salute the Virginia Assembly for taking
this strong stand."

 


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