Animal Fighting and Animal Cruelty

There are a number of criminal offenses in Michigan related to Animal Fighting, Animal Neglect and Animal Cruelty. An “animal” is broadly defined by Michigan law as a vertebrate other than a human.  Hence, these crimes can involve just about any type of animal.

Animal Fighting Offenses

Any of the following offenses are categorized as felonies, pursuant to MCL 750.49(2)(a) through (e), which carry a maximum term of incarceration up to 4 years, a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $50,000, and not less than 500 or more than 1,000 hours of community service:

To own, possess, use, buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, import, or export an animal for fighting or baiting, or as a target to be shot at as a test of skill in marksmanship;

To be a party to or cause the fighting, baiting, or shooting of an animal as described above;

To rent or otherwise obtain the use of a building, shed, room, yard, ground, or premises for fighting, baiting, or shooting an animal as described above;

To organize, promote, or collect money for the fighting, baiting, or shooting of an animal as described above.

Any of the following offenses are categorized as felonies, pursuant to MCL 750.49(2)(f) through (h) which carry a maximum term of incarceration up to 4 years, a fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000, and not less than 250 or more than 500 hours of community service:

To be present at a building, shed, room, yard, ground, or premises where preparations are being made for an exhibition for animal fighting, baiting, or as a marksmanship target, or be present at the exhibition, knowing that an exhibition is taking place or about to take place;

To breed, buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, exchange, import, or export an animal the person knows has been trained or used for fighting as described above, or breed, buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, exchange, import, or export the offspring of an animal the person knows has been trained or used for fighting as described above;

To own, possess, use, buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, transport, or deliver any device or equipment intended for use in the fighting, baiting, or shooting of an animal as described above.

For any of these offenses the Court can order the Defendant, if convicted, to pay the costs for housing and caring for the animal, including, but not limited to, providing veterinary medical treatment. The Defendant also, if convicted, will not be allowed to own or possess an animal of the same species for 5 years after the date of sentencing. The animal also is confiscated as contraband and awarded to the humane society or animal control upon the owner’s conviction. Any animals, equipment, devices, and money used in connection with animal fighting are subject to forfeiture. That forfeiture can be challenged in Court by the owner if done so in a timely and legally sufficient manner.

It is interesting to note that a person who simply attends a dog fight in Michigan, or is at a dog fight that gets raided by the police just before the dogfighting begins, faces the same level of felony as a person who breeds, actively participates, and profits from a dog fight.  The degree of an individual’s involvement, however, may make a difference in any plea bargain offered or the sentence that the Court imposes if a conviction occurs.

Dog fighting and other forms of Animal Fighting can sometimes be pursued in Federal Court, similar to how Michael Vick was prosecuted and sent to prison for his role in dog fighting.  The consequences of dog fighting as a Federal Crime may be much more severe than a State of Michigan charge for the same conduct.

When an animal trained or used for fighting causes injury or death to a person, the consequences are often severe:  If a person incites an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting to attack a person and thereby causes the death of that person, the owner can be charged with a life maximum felony or for a term of years in prison greater than 15 years, according to MCL 750.49(8). If a person incites an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting to attack a person that does not result in the death of that person, the owner can be charged with a 4 year maximum felony or a fine of not more than $2,000, or both, according to MCL 750.49(9). If an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting attacks a person without provocation and causes the death of that person, the owner can be charged with a 15 year maximum felony, according to MCL 750.49(10). If an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting attacks a person without provocation and does not result in death, the owner can be charged with a 1 year maximum misdemeanor, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, according to MCL 750.49(11).  A defense to these allegations is a situation where the person attacked by the animal was committing or attempting to commit an unlawful act on the property of the owner according to MCL 750.49(12).  This is an example of the law which prevents a victim from being victimized.

Failure to properly watch or secure an animal trained or used for fighting is also a criminal offense:  If an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting goes beyond the property limits of its owner without being securely restrained, the owner can be charged with a 90 day maximum misdemeanor, a fine not less than $50 nor more than $500, or both, according to MCL 750.49(13). If an animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting is not securely enclosed or restrained on the owner’s property, the owner can be charged with a 90 day maximum misdemeanor, a fine of not more than $500, or both, according to MCL 750.49(14).

Exceptions to these provisions include dogs used by law enforcement, certified leader dogs for persons with disabilities, and a dog possessed by a corporation licensed under the private security business and security alarm act.

An animal trained or used for fighting or an animal that is the first or second generation offspring of an animal trained or used for fighting that causes the death or injure another person, goes beyond the property limits of the owner without being securely restrained, or is not securely enclosed or restrained on the owner’s property is subject to seizure from the owner. If the owner is convicted, the animal is awarded to the local humane society or other welfare agency by the Court. If the animal is injured, diseased, or if the animal’s continued existence is inhumane due to pain and suffering, the animal may be humanely euthanized. Otherwise, the humane society or animal welfare agency shall apply to the District Court or Municipal Court for a hearing within 30 days to determine whether the animal shall be humanely euthanized because of its lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat it poses. Expenses incurred in connection with the housing, care, upkeep, or euthanasia of the animal will be assessed against the owner.

 

Animal Neglect and Animal Cruelty Offenses

An animal owner, possessor, or a person having the charge or custody of any animal is prohibited from doing any of the following acts pursuant to MCL 750.50:

Fail to provide an animal with adequate care;

Cruelly drive, work, or beat an animal, or cause an animal to be cruelly driven, worked, or beaten;

Carry or cause to be carried in or upon a vehicle or otherwise any live animal having the feet or legs tied together, other than an animal being transported for medical care, or a horse whose feet are hobbled to protect the horse during transport or in any other cruel and inhumane manner;

Carry or cause to be carried a live animal in or upon a vehicle or otherwise without providing a secure space, rack, car, crate, or cage, in which livestock may stand, and in which all other animals may stand, turn around, and lie down during transportation, or while awaiting slaughter;

Abandon an animal or cause an animal to be abandoned, in any place, without making provisions for the animal’s adequate care, unless premises are vacated for the protection of human life or the prevention of injury to a human. An animal that is lost by an owner or custodian while traveling, walking, hiking, or hunting is not abandoned when the owner or custodian has made a reasonable effort to locate the animal;

Negligently allow any animal, including one who is aged, diseased, maimed, hopelessly sick, disabled, or non-ambulatory to suffer unnecessary neglect, torture, or pain;

Tether a dog unless the tether is at least 3 times the length of the dog as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail and is attached to a harness or non-choke collar designed for tethering.

The possible punishment for any of the offenses listed under MCL 750.50 is determined by either the number of animals involved, the type of harm, or the number of prior convictions: If the offense involves 1 animal, the person can be charged with a misdemeanor offense that carries the possible punishment of up to 93 days in jail, a fine up to $1,000, community service for not more than 200 hours, and may be required to pay the costs of prosecution; If the offense involved 2 or 3 animals or the death of any animal, the person can be charged with a misdemeanor offense that carries the possible punishment of up to 1 year in jail, a fine up to $2,000, community service for not more than 300 hours, and may be required to pay the costs of prosecution; If the offense involved 4 or more animals but fewer than 10 animals or the person had 1 prior conviction under MCL 750.50, person can be charged with a felony offense that carries the possible punishment of up to 2 years in prison, a fine up to $2,000, community service for not more than 300 hours, and may be required to pay the costs of prosecution; If the offense involved 10 or more animals or the person had 2 or more prior conviction under MCL 750.50, person can be charged with a felony offense that carries the possible punishment of up to 4 years in prison, a fine up to $5,000, community service for not more than 500 hours, and may be required to pay the costs of prosecution. For any of these offenses under MCL 750.50, the also court has the options to: order the person convicted to undergo psychiatric or psychological counseling and the person’s own expense; to pay the costs of the care, housing, and veterinary medical care of an animal; to not to own or possess an animal. The Court also has the discretion to impose a consecutive sentence according to MCL 750.50(7).

Exceptions to MCL 750.50, include fishing, hunting, trapping, regulated wildlife control, horse racing, the operation of a zoo or aquarium, pest or rodent control, accepted farming practices, veterinary medicine, and scientific research pursuant to Michigan law.

Pursuant to MCL 750.50b it is illegal to do any of the following:

Knowingly kill, torture, mutilate, maim, or disfigure an animal;

Commit a reckless act knowing or having reason to know that the act will cause an animal to be killed, tortured, mutilated, maimed, or disfigured;

Knowingly administer poison to an animal, or knowingly expose an animal to any poisonous substance, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal.

The punishment for any of these felonious acts is up to 4 years in prison, a fine of not more than $5,000 for a single animal and $2,500 for each additional animal, but not more than a total of $20,000, and community service of up to 500 hours. For any of these offenses under MCL 750.50b, the also court has the options to: order the person convicted to undergo psychiatric or psychological counseling and the person’s own expense; to pay the costs of the care, housing, and veterinary medical care of an animal; to not to own or possess an animal. The Court also has the discretion to impose a consecutive sentence according to MCL 750.50(7). Exceptions to MCL 750.50, include the lawful killing of livestock, fishing, hunting, trapping, regulated wildlife control, horse racing, the operation of a zoo or aquarium, pest or rodent control, accepted farming practices, veterinary medicine, and scientific research pursuant to Michigan law.

A person shall not intentionally kill or cause serious harm to a police dog, police horse, or a search and rescue dog. If convicted, according to MCL 750.50c, this offense is a felony which carries a maximum possible sentence of 5 years in prison or a fine of not more than$10,000, or both.  A person shall not intentionally cause physical harm to a police dog, police horse, or a search and rescue dog. According to MCL 750.50c, this offense is a 1 year maximum misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $5,000, or both. However, if this offense was committed while committing another crime, the offense becomes a 2 year maximum felony, with a possible fine of not more than $15,000, or both.  A person shall not intentionally harass or interfere with a police dog, police horse, or search and rescue dog lawfully performing its duties. According to MCL 750.50c, this offense is a 1 year maximum misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $5,000, or both. However, if this offense was committed while committing another crime, the offense becomes a 2 year maximum felony, with a possible fine of not more than $15,000, or both.

Other offenses involving Animal Cruelty include: Killing or Injuring an Animal to Defraud Insurance Company (a 2 year felony pursuant to MCL 750.300); Animal Industry Act Violations (a 5 year felony pursuant to MCL 287.744(1)); Dead Animals, 3rd or Subsequent Violation (1 year misdemeanor according to MCL 287.679); and Administering a Drug to A Racehorse to Influence a Race (4 year felony pursuant to MCL 431.330(4)).

Any person charged with an offense related to Animal Fighting, Animal Neglect, or Animal Cruelty needs an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Many Judges tend to be heavy handed as it relates to sentencing for these offenses because of how vulnerable and loved animals are in society.  The Court is likely to believe that any person convicted of one of these offenses has mental health issues and will usually order mental health treatment to commence in order to rehabilitate the Defendant