What is felony animal cruelty in Ohio?
There are two, specific times in Ohio law when animal abuse is a felony. In the first example, the animal abuser must be convicted of animal cruelty TWICE before he faces a felony conviction. The first time that offender is convicted it is only a misdemeanor. This felony for second abuse conviction has been seldom used.
Second, if an animal “in the care of a kennel” is intentionally harmed by the manager, the owner, or the employees, it is a felony. This is “Nitro’s Law,” named after the beautiful Rottweiler that died in a Youngstown kennel of starvation and neglect.
MOST animal abuse is a misdemeanor in Ohio. That means that the maximum sentence for intentional animal cruelty, causing extreme suffering, possibly death to an animal is six months in jail and one thousand dollars in fine.
What happens to convicted animal abusers at sentencing?
At sentencing, the convicted animal abuser often pays a fine, gets probation, AND he gets his animal returned to him.
Here is a bizarre example of Ohio, animal cruelty. In 2013, Elizabeth Lewis, 19, of Hamilton, Ohio faced animal cruelty charges with the same dog, Bruiser, for the second time in less than a year. Ms. Lewis appeared both times for her animal cruelty charges in the courtroom of the same judge, Hamilton Municipal Court Judge Daniel Gattermeyer.
Bruiser, her pit bull, was found nearly starved to death each time. The first time the judge found Ms. Lewis not guilty of animal cruelty and returned Bruiser to Ms. Lewis.
The second time, a neighbor saw the emaciated, weakened Bruiser fall down some steps. She then called the police to intervene.
Lewis was charged with cruelty to a companion animal and failure to license a dog. These are both misdemeanors.
In his second ruling, the judge admitted “the dog did suffer”. He sentenced Lewis to of 180 days in the Butler County Jail but suspended 90 days.
“Lewis was also placed on two years of community control, ordered to get her GED, not to have pets, and to pay a $500 fine. The judge reminded her if she did not show up for jail, she would serve the entire 180 days.”
Why don’t Ohio judges send convicted animal abusers to prison?
Ohio prisons are dangerously overcrowded and have been for quite a while. Since the passage of HB 86 in 2011, Ohio judges are mandated to seek community sanctions (no prison) for certain nonviolent F-4 and F-5 offenders. Animal abusers are considered by law to be nonviolent.
So, even if the current HB 60, ‘Goddard’s Law’ is enacted, animal abusers still will not be sent to prison. The judges will continue to follow their mandate to look for community sanctions instead of prison.
HB 60, ‘Goddard’s Law’, felony for animal cruelty, has been severely damaged
HB 60, ‘Goddard’s Law’, as introduced, recognizes the complexity of animal cruelty and offers justice for animals that suffer or die from intentional acts of abuse.
However, the excellent intent of the bill has been recently, severely damaged with an amendment. The amendment was added on June 9, 2015, just two weeks before the full House vote.
The amendment (“A humane society … shall not employ an attorney … to prosecute a felony”) does not allow humane societies to employ animal law attorneys for FELONY animal cruelty. The humane societies must use the county prosecutors for FELONY animal cruelty cases.
I believe that one of the unintended consequences of the passage of HB 60 WITH THIS AMENDMENT is that in order to retain experienced animal law attorneys, the humane societies will choose to prosecute more FELONY animal crimes as misdemeanors.
This will have a chilling effect on the future felony prosecution of animal cruelty cases. This unintended effect alone for me is worth stopping the bill.
Why the county prosecutor may not be as good as the animal law attorney
What happens when the already overworked, county prosecutor gets an animal crime case with no potential, large settlement to accompany it? That case quickly moves to the bottom of his stack. It may never soon see the light of day.
In the meantime, the seized animals are on hold in the local humane society. That humane society is providing the daily cost of care, veterinary care, behavior assessment, and rehabilitation training. Those costs become staggering with many, confiscated animals, detained over a long time. That weighty, financial burden can potentially cause a humane society to fail.
Each day impounded in the humane society, adds a risk to the well-being of the animal victims. Additionally, the animals in custody are taking space, resources, and finances that cannot be used for local animals in need.
Ohio needs animal law attorneys on the job for animal crimes. These special prosecutors have the knowledge, training, and expertise to facilitate a quick resolution to animal crime cases.
Animal crime is the ‘red flag’ that others too may be in danger
An immediate responsibility of Ohio legislators is to safeguard our communities against the raging, epidemic violence.
The powerful connections among interpersonal violence, animal cruelty, and some, mental illness are well researched. The recognition of that nasty web has been effecting rapid, legislative change across this nation.
The animal crime is often the most visible sign in the area that others too (children, elderly, handicapped, partners) may also be in danger of unmitigated violence or extreme neglect.
The swift prosecution of animal crimes by experienced, animal law attorneys is a useful prong in Ohio’s defense against sinister forces at work, hidden in plain sight, in our communities.
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA131-HB-60 (Read HB 60 here.)
http://archives.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=129_HB_86 (Read HB 86 here.)