Discussion: The reality of how animal cruelty cases are handled within the U.S. court system

This is a discussion article on the reality of how animal cruelty cases are handled in the U.S. court system. It may surprise some readers on issues that range from the time it takes a case to get to court until it’s settled either by jail time or a small fine.

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

I’ve been writing on court cases for seven years now and it never ceases to amaze me how abusers are punished. Or should I say NOT punished? Part of the problem is the laws in most states aren’t firm enough to be considered punishment and even when a judge issues the maximum penalty allowed by law it’s often seen as a slap on the wrist.

There is some leeway in sentencing but only to the extent that the officiating judge can make charges consecutive rather than concurrent. That’s what we should push for. And no more plea bargaining and ban future pet ownership!

The cases of Barbara Hart (NC), Terry Ray Beasley along with his girlfriend Tamara Perez-Lazaro (NC), Kristen Lindsey (Texas) and Julianne Westberry (SC) have taught me that justice for the abused animals is a long time coming if it comes at all.

I’ll use Barbara Hart as an example since her case keeps being postponed. Cat advocates woke up to the news on May 11, 2017, that Hart not only had dead cats in her home, she had dogs outside without food or fresh water. Master Deputy Patrick Schmeltzer of the Rowan Sheriff’s Office noted he could smell feces, urine and dead animals coming from inside the home.

Hart was arrested at her home May 12 and charged with nine counts of animal cruelty. Her bond was set at $1,500. Hart made her first appearance in court in Salisbury (Rowan County) on June 12. As with most animal cruelty cases we see tried in North Carolina, the case was postponed until July 24 as detailed in this PoC update.

On July 24 the case was once again postponed until August 21.  On August 21 the case was rescheduled for September 18 at which time it was postponed for October 16, 2017. This seems to happen with the majority of cases of animal cruelty in NC.

Animal advocates who follow these cases ask WHY. There are many reasons a case is postponed. Everything from the defense asking for more time to prepare for trial to the arresting officer not being able to make it to court on the appointed day.

What infuriates me is people take days off of work to show up to support the animals involved to see they get some kind of justice. Some come from hundreds of miles away with the hope it will make an impact on the presiding judge, only to be told time and again to come back next month, then the next month, and on and on it goes.

Does anyone know NC law well enough to comment on whether a court case MUST by law be heard within a certain time frame or can only be rescheduled ‘x’ number of times? I’d love for someone to post a link to it if there is.

The only bright spot in this nightmare of court appearances is it often gives the time for the prosecution to gather more evidence against the abuser. Petitions, phone calls, and emails need to be sent to the county District Attorney where the cruelty took place.

In a lot of cases, I believe the person who filed the charges (if an individual) would have to show up at each court appearance. I’m not sure if that person were unavailable the case could be dropped. Another concern is when the abuser doesn’t immediately get out on bond he/she may go before the judge and be given a “time served” sentence. This is what happened in the Terry Ray Beasley case.

Please feel free to leave a comment on animal cruelty cases you’ve followed. Did the punishment fit the crime? How long did it take for the case to actually go to trial? I really like to know whether some states respect animals more than others.

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9 thoughts on “Discussion: The reality of how animal cruelty cases are handled within the U.S. court system”

  1. First is the plea bargain game. This is encouraged to settle many cases out of court. All kinds of crimes are mitigated to lower status to get the criminal to agree to some punishment without being a burden on the court system.
    Many Animal Control Wardens do not have legal powers to arrest and may even have to call local LE for assistance when needed.
    Many local ordinances for animal control are poorly written and next to impossible to enforce. Ours are so open ended you don’t really know when it’s a crime. Reports of animal abuse are often not followed up on or despite eyewitness testimony the owners give a story the AC officer buys.
    Realistically the US needs a standardized set of laws that cover crimes against animals but because of state rights it’s hard to get there.
    The Albuquerque Heart Ordinance is one of the best I’ve seen.
    Judges despite what some of them do are not generally able to make law from the bench. They may set precedent but it has a high chance of being overturned.
    We need well paid , well trained AC officers that are empowered with the full rights of law enforcement.
    We need laws that are spelled out with punishments and fines specified not left up to judicial discretion.
    Most likely we need actual animal courts where the judges sitting are voted in and well versed in animal law.
    A nationwide register of anyone convicted of ANY animal abuse or neglect domestic ( dog , cat ) or livestock.

    https://www.cabq.gov/pets/education-resources/heart-ordinance/heart-ordinance-text

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