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Poisoning Animals

California Penal Code 596 PC - Poisoning Animals

California Penal Code 596 PC makes it a crime to poison someone's animal intentionally. This misdemeanor carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted.

Notably, it's not illegal to have poisoned bait on your own property to kill predatory animals if you post a warning sign. Simply put, suppose you deliberately poison another person's animal. In that case, you could face criminal charges. Some common animals involved in this crime include someone's pet, such as a dog or cat.

California Penal Code 596 PC - Poisoning Animals
PC 596 makes it a misdemeanor crime to intentionally poison another person's animal.

Penal Code 596 states, “Every person who, without the consent of the owner, willfully administers poison to any animal or the property of another or exposes any poisonous substance with the intent that the same shall be taken or swallowed by any such animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.

However, the provisions of this section shall not apply to a person who exposes poisonous substances on premises or property owned or controlled by him for the purpose of controlling or destroying predatory animals or livestock-killing dogs.

If, prior to or during the placing out of such poisonous substances, he shall have posted upon the property conspicuous signs located at intervals of distance not greater than one-third of a mile apart, and in any case not less than three such signs having words with letters at least one-inch high reading “Warning—Poisoned bait placed out on these premises,” which signs shall be kept in place until the poisonous substances have been removed. 

Whenever such signs have been conspicuously located upon the property or premises owned or controlled by him as hereinabove provided, such person shall not be charged with any civil liability to another party if any domestic animal belonging to such party becomes injured or killed by trespassing or partaking of the poisonous substance or substances so placed.
In addition to the misdemeanor penalties, you could also be liable for civil damages to the owner to compensate for their loss.

Poisoning Animals – Quick Facts

There are some essential facts you should know about California Penal Code 596 PC poisoning another person's animal, such as the following:

  • It's a crime to willfully administer poison to someone else's animal or leave poison exposed, intending the animal to find and consume it.
  • To convict, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable the act of poisoning the animal was intentional.
  • Acting recklessly or negligently is not enough for a conviction; rather, there must be evidence of a deliberate intent to harm or kill the animal.
  • The “harmful substance” must be able to cause illness or death. 

What Are the Exceptions?

Penal Code 596 PC exempts people from criminal or civil liability for poisoning an animal under the following circumstances: 

  • The poison on their own property or one they manage.
  • The purpose of the poison was to kill predatory animals or livestock-killing dogs.
  • The owner placed appropriate warning signage at least every one-third mile along their property line, saying, "Warning–Poisoned bait placed out on these premises."

Simply put, you cannot be prosecuted for placing poison on your own property to protect your interests if you fulfill your duty of care to warn other animal owners of the existence of the poison. If you follow the correct steps, you can't be prosecuted or civilly sued for the injury or death of another person's animal.

What Are Related Laws?

Several California laws are related to Penal Code 596 poisoning someone's animal, including the following: 

  • Penal Code 597 PC - animal abuse and cruelty. This law makes it a crime to maliciously and intentionally harm, maim, torture, or kill an animal. Suppose you give an animal poison, and it suffers, permanently injures, or dies; you could face prosecution under this law. PC 597 is a "wobbler" that can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony with harsh penalties if convicted.
  • Penal Code 597.5 PC - dogfighting. It's a crime to own, possess, keep, or train a dog to engage in dogfighting, and it's also illegal to be present at a dogfight.  
  • Penal Code 597.7 PC - leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle. This law prohibits leaving animals unattended in a motor vehicle if the conditions endanger their health or well-being.
  • Penal Code 597a PC - transport animals cruelly or inhumanely.
  • Penal Code 597t – confined animals.
  • Penal Code 399 PC - failure to control a dangerous dog or animal.
  • Penal Code 286.5 PC – sexual abuse of animals.

What Is the PC 596 Penalties? 

PC 596 poisoning someone else's animal is a misdemeanor offense. If you are found guilty, you will face the following penalties:

  • Up to six months in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $1,000,
  • Misdemeanor summary probation.

Notably, the judge has the discretion to probation only under certain circumstances rather than imposing jail time. 

What are PC 596 Defenses? 

Suppose you are accused of violating Penal Code 596. In that case, our California criminal defense attorneys can use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.

Maybe we can argue that there was a lack of intent. Recall from above that a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you willfully intended to poison the animal.
If they are unable to prove this crucial factor, then the fact that the animal was poisoned is irrelevant without proving intent.

You can probably avoid a conviction if we show that you had no such willful intent. Perhaps we can argue that the poisoning was accidental or unintentional.

Maybe we can argue that you qualify for the exception. Perhaps we can show that you only left the poison on your property and posted the appropriate warnings and should not be guilty under PC 596.

Maybe we can negotiate with the prosecutor prefiling to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges, commonly called a “DA reject.” Contact our law firm for more information or a free case review. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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