Virginia Senate Votes to Strengthen Dogfighting Laws

Posted on January 31, 2008

SB 26 Criminalizes Organized Dogfighting

Chained dogRichmond, Va. – By a 40-0 vote, the Virginia Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 26
on Tuesday. The bill now moves to the House for consideration. SB 26,
drafted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and patroned by state
Senator W. Roscoe Reynolds, adds organized dogfighting to the list of
crimes prosecutable under the state RICO ("Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organization Act") laws. RICO–a 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 RICO in a dogfighting operation, prosecutors would have
increased muscle in seeking justice for the animals abused, and, as in
the recent Michael Vick case, even killed by their owners.

"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
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."

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" a defendant’s assets; and 
  • Forfeiture of the assets used in the illegal activity and the gains generated from the criminal enterprise.

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

Related Article:

Virginia Assembly Further Strengthens Dogfighting Laws (3/5/08)