In New York, a new “court” has been established to streamline animal cruelty cases. It’s not an official court, but all misdemeanor animal cruelty cases in the city of Syracuse will be prosecuted by assistant district attorney Laura Fiorenza and will go before City Court Judge Stephen Dougherty.
The animal cruelty court has a couple of goals. The first goal is to expedite the cases, which can take some time: In Syracuse, the average case takes 3 to 6 months, and the city prosecutes about 15 to 20 cases of cruelty per year. This is significant because unless the defendant surrenders the animal, the animal (considered “living evidence”) must wait it out in a shelter until the case is resolved. As trials drag on, the animal may experience further suffering, not only physically but also psychologically, and long trials can result in the animal ultimately being deemed “unadoptable.” Speedy adjudication will have a positive affect on the abused animals because they will spend less time languishing in a shelter. With this new court, the animals have a much better chance of getting out of the shelter and into a new loving home, mentally and physically healthy.
The second goal is to punish defendants consistently. The unfortunate reality is that many people in law enforcement and the legal community have little to no familiarity in handling crimes against animals. (This is largely due to the fact that animal crime statutes are found in the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law and not the penal code. As a result, police are not trained on these laws.) The judge and prosecutor assigned to these particular cases will gain familiarity with the laws. Therefore, cases will be adjudicated appropriately and repeat offenders will be dealt with properly.
By establishing this court, Syracuse has demonstrated that it takes animal abuse seriously. When we take crimes against animals seriously, we are also taking crimes against humans seriously: Crimes against animals rarely happen in isolation. The presence of animal abuse is a red flag. To learn more about this, please refer to National Link Coalition’s The Link Between Violence to People and Violence to Animals.
So far, the new court has heard three cases; the victims were pit bulls and a chihuahua.
Need to report animal cruelty in New York? Please refer to this resource, compiled by my colleagues on the Animal Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association: http://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/20072673-NYSAnimalCrueltyReportingHotlines.pdf