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California Animal Abuse and Cruelty Laws

Posted by Alan Eisner | Nov 01, 2017

Cruelty to Animals – California Penal Code  597 PC
Penal Code 597 PC animal cruelty law makes it a crime kill, physically harm, neglect or overwork an animal.

The state of California has some of the strictest animal cruelty laws in the United States. In fact, animal abuse is considered a serious crime with potentially harsh legal consequences. Any accusations of neglect or abuse of an animal are thoroughly investigated and aggressively prosecuted in Los Angeles County.

Animal abuse laws are covered under California Penal Code Section 597, which makes it a crime to kill, physically harm, neglect or overwork an animal. Animal cruelty laws are designed to protect domesticated pets, stray animals, wild animals and farmed animals.

There is no doubt that valid animal abuse cases exist in Los Angeles County, but in some cases, animal abuse allegations are the result of unintentional circumstances. These include situations where you accidentally injured your pet at home or left them in your hot unattended car too long while shopping.

Additionally, strong political pressure from animal activism groups can sometimes influence police to open an investigation and pursue a criminal case. The term animal abuse can cover a wide variety of conduct. In basic terms, animal abuse occurs when any animal receives cruel treatment or neglect.

Abuse is when an animal is physically abused, while neglect is when an animal is deprived of their basic needs of food, water, or shelter. In Los Angeles County, there are many common examples of situations where you could be charged with animal abuse. One example is a situation where your job requires you leave home for several days at time.

During your absence, you leave your dog tied up in the back yard without access to food or water. Another example is a situation where someone owns numerous cats inside a trailer home and fails to provide sufficient care, leading to the cats being malnourished and living in unsuitable conditions of urine and feces.

If you have been accused of animal cruelty, you need to call the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP immediately. If convicted, you will be facing harsh punishment, including jail time, large fines, and having you pets removed from your home. In some cases, you might even be prohibited from owning an animal for ten years.

If you are contacted a police detective, it would be in your best interest to politely decline to answer their questions as you might make an incriminating statement that will be used against you later. Now that we have discussed the basics of a potential animal abuse case, let's take a closer look at the legal definitions below.

Cruelty to Animals – California Penal Code Section 597

California has several Penal Code Sections that cover animal abuse and animal cruelty. Under California Penal Code Section 597, cruelty to animals is legally defined, in part:

  • (a) Every person who intentionally maims, tortures, wounds, or kills a living animal is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine $20,000, or both, or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year. (b) every person who having charge or custody of animal overworks, tortures, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats or kills any animal, or as owner subjects any animal to needless suffering, cruelty, or abuses  any animal, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, is guilty of a punishable crime as a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

As you can see, the legal definition clearly prohibits maliciously harming an animal in many different ways. It's also a crime to deprive animals of necessary food, drink, or shelter, or failing to protect them from severe weather conditions. 

In addition, under California Penal Code Section 597.5, dog fighting is a form of animal abuse. You can be convicted of the crime of dog fighting if you own, possess, keep, or train a dog with the intent to participate in dog fighting, cause a dog to fight or injure another dog for amusement or financial gain.

A violation of Penal Code Section 597.5 is a felony crime, punishable by up to three years in the California state prison, and a fine up to $50,000.

Another form of animal abuse is covered under California Penal Code Section 597.7, which prohibits leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle under conditions that endanger the well-being of the animal. Penal Code 399 PC defines the crime of failing to control a dangerous dog or other animals.

The conditions include hot or cold weather without proper ventilation, lack of food or water, or any other dangerous condition. A violation of this offense is a misdemeanor crime, punishable by six months in county jail, and up to a $500 fine. Consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our law firm for more detailed information.

Related California Animal Abuse and Cruelty Laws

In addition to the acts prohibited under California Penal Code Section 597 discussed above, there are also a wide variety of other laws that qualify as animal abuse or cruelty. These laws include:

  • California Penal Code Section 286.5 – Sexual Abuse of Animals,
  • California Penal Code Section 596 - Poisoning an Animal,
  • California Penal Code Section 597b, 597c, 597i, 597j - Cockfighting,
  • California Penal Code Section 597a – Transporting an Animal in Inhumane Manner,
  • California Penal Code Section 597l – Regulates Inhumane Conditions in Pet Stores,
  • California Penal Code Section 597t – Regulates Inhumane Confinement of Animals,
  • California Penal Code Section 597s – Abandonment of Animals.

In order for a Los Angeles County prosecutor to obtain a conviction for animal abuse, they will have to be able to prove you maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed a living animal, AND you acted maliciously.

Legal Penalties for an Animal Abuse Conviction

Under California PC 597, animal cruelty is a “wobbler,” meaning the Los Angeles County prosecutor can file the case as a misdemeanor or felony offense. Their decision on how to file charges is typically based on the specific facts and circumstances and your prior criminal history.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor case of animal cruelty, the legal penalties can include up to one year in an LA County jail, and a fine up to $20,000. If you are convicted of a felony animal abuse case, the legal penalties can include up to 3 years in a California state prison, and a $20,000 fine.

In some cases, the animal could be permanently removed from your care and you might be required to pay the cost of housing the animal. Call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our office for more information on potential legal consequences. 

Legal Defenses Against Animal Abuse Charges

If you are facing charges of any type of animal abuse or cruelty charges, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use a variety of legal defenses on your behalf. Any effective defense strategy will depend on the specific facts of your case. These potential legal defenses include:

  • Accident or lack of intent - In order to be convicted of animal abuse, the prosecutor has to be able to prove you acted intentionally and maliciously. In some case, our criminal lawyers may be able to prove to animal's injury or death was not on purpose or due to negligence, but rather an accident. In basic terms, we could argue there was no specific intent to harm the animal. 
  • False allegation or mistaken identity – There have been cases where people were falsely accused of animal abuse or cruelty from another person who was motivated by anger, jealously, or even revenge. In some cases, our criminal attorneys may be able to prove the accusations are false.

In other cases, we may be able to prove, you are simply a victim of mistaken identity. In fact, it's not that uncommon for innocent people to be accused based on mistaken identity.

It's important to understand that every animal abuse or cruelty case has its own set of unique facts and circumstances. Any effective legal defense strategy will first require a close review of all the specific details.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a family member are facing accusations of any type of animal abuse or cruelty, it would be in your best interest to call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP as soon as possible.

Animal abuse charges are a serious issue and the legal penalties can be severe. We will review your case and discuss legal options.

Our law firm offers a free immediate response. Call our office at 877-781-1570.

About the Author

Alan Eisner

Alan Eisner  Van Nuys, California (818) 781-1570 (818) 788-5033 Email Me  Alan Eisner has practiced criminal law for over 28 years in Los Angeles County . Mr Eisner is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. (The California State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization has designated Mr. Eisner as a...

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