Animal Cruelty - Florida Statute 828.12
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Under Florida Statute 828.12, it is illegal to commit cruelty to animals. There are two types of animal cruelty in Florida: (1) misdemeanor animal cruelty and (2) felony animal cruelty. The main difference between the two is the misdemeanor animal cruelty involves an isolated event while felony animal cruelty is ongoing pain and suffering. Animal cruelty must be unnecessary or unjustified in the current situation. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference between animal cruelty and the animal just being in a bad situation.
Not Animal Cruelty
- Cutting a dog with a knife - to remove cancer.
- Having the dog go hungry and thirsty for 2 whole days because a hurricane blew through and the house was destroyed, but the owner is trying to find food and water for the dog.
- A man cutting the tail of a dog off just to see it bark and squeal.
- A lazy man not feeding or watering his caged dog when he has a bag of food in the other room and the plumbing is working. See Hynes v. State, 1 So. 3d 328, 329 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009).
It is a crime to:
- Unnecessarily overload, overdrive, torment, deprive of food and water or shelter;
- Unnecessarily mutilate or kill any animal; or
- Carry in or upon any vehicle any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner. (For example, in the back of the truck in the cold rain.)
These actions are specific instances because if things were done repeatedly, then the crime would be charged as a felony.What the State Prosecutor Has to Prove to Convict a Defendant of Misdemeanor Animal Cruelty
The state prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed any of the following:
(1) Unnecessarily overloaded, overdrove, tormented, mutilated, or killed an animal;
(2) Deprived an animal of necessary food and water or shelter; or
(3) Carried an animal in or upon a vehicle in a cruel or inhumane manner.
Where people get into trouble with this statute is that the word tormented can mean different things to different people. For instance, we had a case where a 15 year old girl was charged with animal cruelty because witnesses who did not lacked knowledge about horses said she was hitting her horse in the face and whipping the animal. These witnesses, maybe innocently and with good intentions, caused this girl to be arrested because they really did not understand horses and their required training. Horses need to know boundaries so they don’t accidently hurt their riders by throwing them or trampling them to death while the horses enjoy being ridden around the countryside. When witness so the young trainer slap the horses snout they failed to realize that it was not hurting the horse. When she used her training device, whip, the witnesses did not realize that it was an intention grabber and not a device that caused pain. Unfortunately, a young girl who had been around horses and involved in their training for several years was arrested. The state then filed the charges because the prosecutor that first looked at the case equally lacked knowledge. Luckily, we did our homework and found that the training used was common in the trade and universally accepted and a prosecutor listened.Punishment
This crime is a first-degree misdemeanor which is punishable up to 365 days in jail. The maximum fine is specifically defined in the statute as $5,000.Florida Statute 828.12(2) - Felony Animal Cruelty
In Florida, it is illegal to intentionally act or fail to act which results in the death or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal. This is the more serious form of animal cruelty.
“[T]here must be an objectively close connection between a defendant's act and the harm that ultimately befalls an animal; the harm must be ‘obviously reasonably related’ to the defendant's act.” Hamilton v. State, 128 So. 3d 872, 873 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). For example, a man walking a dog on a leash would not be reasonably related to the death of a cat which subsequently got in a fight with the leashed dog; however, if the man let the dog off the leash when he saw the cat and the dog killed the cat, the man would be committing animal cruelty because the act of letting the dog go is reasonably related to the death of the cat.What the State Prosecutor Has to Prove to Convict a Defendant of This Crime
The state prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
(1) The defendant intentionally committed an act; and
(2) The act resulted in the excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal or an animal’s cruel death.
This crime is a general intent crime. See Reynolds v. State, 842 So. 2d 46, 47 (Fla. 2002). This means that the defendant only has to commit an act which results in the pain or death of an animal and not that the defendant intended to cause the pain or death of an animal
- It was not animal cruelty to walk a dog down the street on a leash and the dog get into a fight with a cat and kill it. See Hamilton v. State, 128 So. 3d 872, 873-74 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013).
- It was animal cruelty to tie a dog up so it was standing on only two legs and being choked by the collar while the owner beat the dog with a 2x4 for pooping in the house. See Lukaszewski v. State, 111 So. 3d 212, 214 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).
One argument could be made, if the facts are right, that the defendant was hunting the animal and not intentionally trying to kill the animal in a cruel way. In a Florida case, a defendant repeatedly shot a possum with a BB gun and the court said that there is a blurred line between hunting and animal cruelty. See Bartlett v. State, 929 So. 2d 1125, 1125-26 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).
Our lawyers will fight your case, but sometimes the facts in your case are not as clear. So one strategy our lawyers could potentially use is to persuade a prosecutor to change the charges to a lesser charge.Punishment
This crime is a third-degree felony which is punishable up to 5 years in prison and a$5,000 fine. The crime is ranked a level 3 under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. If the defendant is found to have intentionally tortured the animal, there is a minimum mandatory $2,500 fine and psychological counseling or anger management treatment.
A second conviction of this crime will result in a minimum mandatory $5,000 fine and jail time of 6 months.Contact The Law Office of Roger P. Foley, P.A.
Call today to schedule a free consultation with our Lake Worth, Florida Animal Cruelty Defense Attorneys. It is important that we get know you as a client, but even more so as a person. Knowing you will help us do our job better. We need to hear your version of the story and any facts you remember. Information to a criminal defense attorney is very similar to bricks, if you give us enough, we can build a strong defense. Call today so we can get to work building your defense.