Seeking Justice for Gigi — and Defending New York’s Cruelty Laws


May 4, 2023

Work Type

Criminal Justice



New York Court of Appeals upheld lower-court ruling

Next Step

Gigi, a small dog, was at the scene when one of her human family members got into an altercation with a family friend. During the tussle, the friend struck Gigi with a metal rod and caused several injuries. As a result of the blow, Gigi lost an eye. She was also left with a fractured cheekbone and an injured shoulder. At no time did Gigi ever touch or bite her attacker, Luis Jimenez.

Jimenez was arrested on animal cruelty charges and later indicted by a grand jury for criminal mischief, animal cruelty, and “Overdriving, Torturing, or Injuring an Animal.”

But the trial court dismissed the indictment, holding that the prosecution should have instructed the jury on a potential defense for Jimenez, which permits conduct that is otherwise illegal, if the conduct is necessary to avoid a greater evil. In short, the court found that Jimenez could have been entitled to a “choice of evils” defense.

Reversed on Appeal

Prosecutors later appealed the trial court’s dismissal, and the appellate court reversed the decision, finding that “there was no reasonable view of the evidence that forcefully striking and injuring the approximate eight-pound terrier poodle in the manner undertaken by defendant, who was approximately 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, was necessary as an emergency measure to avoid, at most, a bite by this small animal through denim pants.”

Jimenez next appealed the case to the New York Court of Appeals.

Seeking to help ensure a just outcome for Gigi and her family, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Association for Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) together filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case.

Victory for Gigi — and New York State Animal Cruelty Laws

“No reasonable view of the evidence justifies Defendant’s brutal use of force against Gigi … for Defendant to avoid a potential nip at the bottom of his jeans,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund and APA’s amicus brief read, in part.

Under New York’s choice of evils law, the use of otherwise-illegal force can only be justified in an emergency situation to avoid otherwise-unavoidable injury, and only if the defendant claiming the justification was not at fault for the situation arising in the first place.

Not only did an eight-pound dog who had not bitten Jimenez pose no significant threat to him — Jimenez also had lawful options to resolve the situation without committing animal cruelty, such as simply exiting the situation, or asking Gigi’s guardian to remove her.

The brief also noted that Gigi and her guardian are both victims in this case. Gigi endured pain and suffering as a result of the cruelty inflicted on her, and continues to face long-term consequences including losing the vision from one eye. Her guardian has also suffered emotional harm “both at the time of the event and the long-term repercussions of caring for her permanently injured dog,” the amicus brief noted.

In November 2022, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the People — upholding the appellate court’s ruling and handing a major victory to Gigi and other animal cruelty victims.

Ensuring Justice for Animal Victims

The Animal Legal Defense Fund works with prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, veterinarians, judges, and others to protect animals from cruelty and bring justice for animal cruelty victims.

This work includes filing amicus briefs, as in Gigi’s case, as well as providing training, securing and funding expert witnesses, and providing grant funding to care for animal cruelty victims and conduct necessary veterinary forensic work. In partnership with the APA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also hosts the annual National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference.

Where was this amicus brief filed, and why? Which law(s) were at play in this case? The brief was filed with the New York Court of Appeals. In the case, Gigi’s attacker was charged with Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree, Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, and Overdriving, Torturing or Injuring an Animal.

Why this case is important: Had Gigi’s attacker prevailed with the dubious defense that beating a tiny dog was justified as the lesser of two evils — with the purported greater evil being a hypothetical bite, merely based on the fact that dogs are capable of biting — countless other animals would have been put at risk. “Such a conclusion would undoubtedly undermine animal protection laws across the state and permit the exact type of cruelty and maltreatment that those laws are intended to safeguard against,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund and APA’s amicus brief argued.

Thus, the New York Court of Appeals’ favorable ruling represents a major victory for animals — and those who fight to protect them from cruelty.

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