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Animal Abuse and Cruelty

Animal Abuse and Cruelty Laws – California Penal Code 597

In California, animal abuse and cruelty is considered a serious crime that carries severe legal penalties if convicted. In fact, any allegations of abuse of neglect of animals are aggressively investigated and prosecuted.

California Penal Code 597 is the statue that defines animal abuse and makes it a crime to neglect, harm, kill, or even overwork an animal. California's animal cruelty laws are primarily designed to protect domesticated pets and stray animals, but also covered farm or wild animals.

It should be noted there are many obvious valid animal abuse cases, but some accusations are the result of unintentional circumstances. For example, a situation where your pet was injured accidentally when you kept them inside your unattended vehicle too long.

In some cases, pressure from animal activism groups will persuade law enforcement to start a criminal investigation in order to prosecute.

Animal “abuse” covers a wide range of behavior, but primarily occurs when an animal is treated in a cruel manner or physically abused. Animal “neglect” primarily occurs when an animal is deprived of basic needs, such as food, water, or shelter.

A common example of animal abuse charges includes a situation where your employment requires you to leave town for several days. While you are away, you leave you dog in the backyard without food or water.

Another common example includes a situation you sometimes see in the news where someone owns a very large number of cats, but fails to provide them with provide sufficient care that leaves them malnourished and living in an environment of urine and feces. California Penal Code 597.5 PC defines the related crime of dogfighting.

To give readers a better understanding of the animal abuse and cruelty laws, our criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Definition of Penal Code 597 Animal Abuse and Cruelty

California has several Penal Code Sections defining animal abuse and animal cruelty. Penal Code 597 is defined as:

(a) Anyone who intentionally maims, tortures, wounds, or kills an animal is guilty of a crime punishable by imprisonment in a California state prison, a fine $20,000, or both, or up to one year in a county jail.

(b) Anyone who has custody of an animal overworks, tortures, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats kills, or subjects an animal to needless suffering, cruelty, abuses, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, is guilty of either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

Under California Penal Code 597.5, dog fighting is a type of animal abuse. It's defined as owning, possessing, or training a dog with intent to participate in dog fighting, or cause a dog to fight or injure another dog for amusement or financial gain.

If convicted on PC 597.5 dog fighting, it's a felony crime that carries up to three years in a California state prison, a fine up to $50,000.

Under California Penal Code 597.7, it's a crime to leave an animal in an unattended vehicle under conditions that endanger their well-being of the animal. These conditions include hot or cold weather without adequate ventilation and a lack of food or water.

If convicted of PC 597.7, it's a misdemeanor crime that carries up to six months in county jail, and a fine up to $500.

It should be noted that in order for a prosecutor to convict someone of PC 597 cruelty to animals, they must be able to prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 2953 Jury Instructions. This includes showing a defendant maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed a living animal, AND they acted maliciously.

Related California Offenses 

There are a variety of other statutes that are closely related to California Penal Code  597 discussed above. They include the following:

Penal Code 286.5 – Sexual Abuse of an Animal
Penal Code 596 – Poisoning an Animal
Penal Code 597b, 597c, 597i, 597j – Cockfighting
Penal Code 597a – Transport Animal in Inhumane Manner
Penal Code 597t – Inhumane Confinement of Animal
Penal Code 597s – Abandonment of Animal

Penalties for Animal Abuse

California Penal Code 597 animal cruelty is a “wobbler.” This means the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. This decision is normally based on the circumstance of the case and your prior criminal record.

If convicted of a PC 597 misdemeanor animal cruelty, you are facing up to one year in county jail, and a fine up to $20,000.  If convicted of a PC 597 felony animal abuse, you are facing up to three years in a California state prison, and a $20,000 fine.

Additionally, the animal could be permanently removed from your custody and you could be ordered to pay the cost of housing the animal.

Fighting Penal Code 597 Animal Abuse Charges

If you have been charged with any form of Penal Code 597 animal abuse or cruelty, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use various strategies in an effort to obtain the best possible outcome on the case.

We need to first closely examine all the details and circumstances of the case in order to determine an appropriate defense. Common defenses include:

Lack of intent or accident defense

Recall from above that the prosecutor has to be able to prove you acted intentionally and maliciously in order to be convicted of animal abuse.

We might be able to make a reasonable argument the animal's injury or death was not on purpose or from negligence, but rather an accident. In other words, there was no specific intent to harm the animal.

False accusation or mistaken identity defense

We might be able to make an argument that you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested for animal abuse or cruelty. Perhaps the accuser was motivated by anger, jealously, or revenge. In other situations, perhaps we can to prove you are a victim of mistaken identity.

Every case of Penal Code 597 animal abuse or cruelty case has unique facts and circumstances. This means any defense strategy will first and foremost require a thorough review of all the specific details.

If you or a member of the family has been accused of animal abuse or cruelty in violation of California Penal Code 597, you should call our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review the case and options.  A conviction for animal abuse charges can result in severe penalties.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We also have an office located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Contact us for a free consultation at (424) 372-3112.

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