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December 18, 2013

Is there a real problem with animal cruelty federal sentences being way too short?

The question in the title of this post was my reaction to seeing this essay, titled "Vulnerable Victims: Increasing Animal Cruelty Sentences to Reflect Society's Understanding of the Value of Animal Lives," recently posted on SSRN.  Authored by Adam Lamparello and Megan Boyd, here is the abstract for this essay:

More should be done to deter animal cruelty. Crush videos, which depict horrific acts of animal cruelty, should be banned.  The advisory Guidelines range — as well as the five-year statutory maximum sentence for animal cruelty cases — should be substantially increased. Additionally, courts should continue to impose severe sentences upon those who subject animals to senseless and deadly violence.  In so doing, the law will recognize the intrinsic value of animals as conscious, living creatures worthy of legal and constitutional protection.

Candidly, I am not sure I fully understand or approve why many or even any animal cruelty should be prosecuted in federal courts.  Though I can imagine settings in which dog-fighting, cock-fighting and other inter-state economic activities based on animal abuse implicate important federal interests, the underlying animal cruelty strikes me as typically a distinctly local activity that ought generally (if not always) be prosecuted in local courts to better reflect local needs and interests.  My sense is that there are lots of local variations on what is regarded as criminal treatment of animals (e.g., hunting pigeons in a New York City park likely will be viewed by the local community as much different than hunting pheasants in a South Dakota park).  For such behavior, I always think local juries and local judges ought always be the primary, and perhaps the exclusive, assessors of criminality and what constitutes fair and effective punishment.

December 18, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Permalink


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The federal courts and federal prosecutors have enough dirt on their hands as it stands.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 18, 2013 4:51:44 PM

Couldn't agree more. There's no readers interest here and these crimes likely do reflect varying local mores.

Posted by: Merritt | Dec 18, 2013 7:16:59 PM

There aren't a lot of federal animal cruelty prosecutions out there, are there? The logical place for them would be interstate commerce in certain goods,* conduct in federal areas and (putting aside 1A concerns, obviously) certain animal cruelty video type things that again has a national and international market.

This as noted should be tried locally.

* One possibility here would be harm on major factory farms and slaughterhouses which might entail truly national businesses. Regulation of cattle drives that cross state lines and the like would fit the bill here.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 19, 2013 11:01:42 AM

This as noted should be tried [mostly] locally.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 19, 2013 11:02:24 AM

Thanks for your comments on our article, Professor Berman. You make a great point, to which I would just add the following: (1)local variations or "mores" do not, in my humble opinion, apply to the types of animal cruelty we discuss in our article (e.g., dogfighting, starvation, and other acts of torture). This type of behavior is outlawed in all 50 states. I do agree, however, with your statement that local variations in hunting, for example, should be decided locally; (2) one problem is that, in some states, animal cruelty is still classified as a misdeameanor, and the penalties are alarmingly lenient. Perhaps this itself reflects local variation, but given that there is an interstate market for conduct such as dogfighting, that some animals experience pain in a manner similar to humans, and that animal abuse correlates (to an extent) with crimes against humans, the federal government, in my opinion, has an interest in seeing that extreme cases such as those we highlighted in our article are punished more harshly. Just my two cents.

Posted by: Adam Lamparello | Dec 20, 2013 10:45:52 AM

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