The National Trial Lawyers

Animal Cruelty

Massachusetts has a serious animal cruelty statute that prohibits a wide range of conduct related to the treatment of animals. A conviction under the Massachusetts animal cruelty law carries a lengthy state prison sentence.

There are several different theories of prosecution an assistant district attorney can use in order to convict a defendant of animal cruelty. The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant personally killed, cruelly beat, mutilated, tortured, tormented, overworked, overloaded, overdrove, or deprived an animal of necessary sustenance; or
  2. The defendant caused one of these things to happen to an animal; or
  3. The defendant used a living animal in an inhuman or cruel manner in a game, race, or contest, or in training, or as lure or bait (other than a lure or bait used in fishing); or
  4. The defendant either owned or was otherwise in charge of an animal and was (a) unnecessarily cruel toward it; or (b) failed to provide appropriate food, drink, and shelter; or
  5. The defendant either owned or was otherwise in charge of an animal and willfully abandoned it or caused it to be carried in or on a vehicle in an inhuman manner; or
  6. The defendant willfully and knowingly permitted or authorized an animal to be subjected to unnecessary suffering, torture, or cruelty of any kind.

This statute is dangerous because it is so broadly written that there are dozens of ways the Commonwealth can allege a violation.

  • Accident – It’s a tragedy anytime a pet dies for whatever reason, and oftentimes it is as a result of an accident. The Commonwealth needs to prove the defendant intentionally and knowingly violated the statute by committing the acts prohibited therein.
  • Training – Some animals need to be trained to behave appropriately and owners sometimes use force in order to punish bad behavior. It is often a question whether the force used by the owner is appropriate or is abusive.
  • Defendant’s Conduct not Illegal – The Commonwealth will sometimes charge a defendant with inappropriately caring for an animal, resulting in the animal suffering from malnutrition. It is the Commonwealth’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the animal is malnourished and the malnourishment is a result of the defendant’s conduct. These cases sometimes involve veterinarians who come to court to testify about whether an animal is healthy and, if not, whether the defendant caused the animal to suffer in any way.

There are many unique challenges to defending these cases. Because so many people have had pets at various points in their lives, it’s sometimes difficult to find jurors who will be able to be fair and unbiased. People feel so strongly about animals that many prospective jurors tell the judge that hearing evidence about a neglected animal would cause them to become too emotional.

With such severe consequences for violating the animal cruelty statute, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you. Attorney Chris Spring has successfully defended animal cruelty cases and is knowledgeable about the various theories prosecutors employ to convince juries to convict defendants.

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