Can You Own a Pet After an Animal Cruelty Conviction?

May 23, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Animal cruelty is a horrible crime that is taken very seriously in Florida. Aside from the social stigma of being known as someone whose been violent with a pet or other animal, there are harsh consequences that come with an animal cruelty conviction, which can include expensive fines and potential jail time. 

One question that may arise after being accused of animal cruelty is can you still own a pet after an animal cruelty charge? This blog will cover the basics of the animal cruelty statute, whether you can continue being a pet owner, and the animal cruelty task force that has started in one Florida county.

Animal Cruelty in Florida

Florida Statute Section 828 covers animal cruelty, which is defined as when an individual overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal. It also includes if the individual causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner. If this has been committed, the defendant would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor of animal cruelty. The penalties include a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in jail.

If an individual commits an act towards an animal, or a person owns or has the custody or control of any animal and fails to act, which results in the cruel death, excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or commits aggravated animal cruelty, it is a third-degree felony of animal cruelty. A crime is normally considered aggravated when a deadly weapon is used. The penalties include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to five years in jail.

In addition to the Florida Statute, there was also the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act that was passed in 2019. Under the law, it bans the “intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impalement, or other serious harm to living, non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians.” If an individual who violates this may be fined under the title or go to jail for up to seven years.

Ponce’s Law

In 2018, there was a demand from Florida residents for the state legislature to create harsher penalties for individuals who were convicted of animal abuse. The case that officially pushed the legislation over the edge was a case in Ponce Inlet of a Labrador retriever puppy getting beaten to death by its owner. The owner was charged and convicted with felony animal cruelty.

Under Ponce’s Law, it allows a judge to order an individual convicted of animal cruelty from, “owning, possessing, keeping, harboring, or having custody or control over any animal for a period of time determined by the court.”

Typically in a criminal case, the laws are not applied retroactively, which means Ponce’s Law shouldn’t have applied to the owner’s case. This are known as ex post facto laws, which make a previously innocent act criminal, aggravate the seriousness of a crime after it was committed, or change the punishment of the crime retroactively. However, the owner pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and came to an agreement with the prosecution to apply the newly passed law to ban them from owning any animals in the future.

The judge deemed that the defendant could not live with anyone with a pet, which included the cat that resided with his ex-wife and children. In addition, the judge ruled that the defendant was unable to own any animals, imposing a lifetime ban.

Animal Cruelty Task Force in Florida

Lee County is one of the first in Florida to initiate an animal cruelty task force. In April 2020, Sheriff Carmine Marceno made it clear that it was a top priority to create a team to combat animal abuse in the county.

This was done by creating the Animal Cruelty Task Force, which focuses on educating residents on neglect and animal abuse with their pets. They also want to educate the community on the Florida Statute 828.12, and the fact that they intend to enforce it if they find cases of animal abuse.

The US Humane Society notes that a 2001-2004 study shows that offenders who are charged with animal cruelty are likely to commit other violent crimes against humans as well. The Chicago Police Department conducted a study and found that 65% of defendants arrested for animal abuse have also been arrested for battery against a human.

Sheriff Marceno states that Lee County has zero tolerance for any animal abuse and that the county will continue to protect and seek justice for animals that cannot speak up for themselves.

Example Case

On March 29th, 2022, a man in Fort Myers was arrested for animal cruelty after being seen beating his dog in the back of a car at a local RaceTrac. Marcus Chiddister, 22, was spotted and filmed at the gas station repeatedly punching his two-year-old pit bull, Sheeba.

The video of the incident went viral and ultimately led to Chiddister’s arrest. Police took both Chiddister and his girlfriend into custody. His girlfriend admitted that her boyfriend had hit their dog, stating it was because the pit bull had eaten some of their food. She also admitted that he had hit the dog in the past. Chiddister claimed he had previously hit the dog with an open hand, which is what his dog trainer had told him.

Investigators were sent to the couple’s home to retrieve Sheeba so she could be examined. After examining the dog at their home, it was determined by Lee County Domestic Animal Services that “non-accidental” injuries had occurred to the dog.

In addition to pursuing an animal cruelty felony charge against Chiddister, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno also filed a civil complaint against the defendant. “Now we civilly fight with the courts and we go after, so this person can never have an animal again and we take that dog from him,” said Marceno.

On May 12th, 2022, the judge ruled in favor of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in the case against Chiddister. The defendant has lost custody of Sheeba, turning over custody to the sheriff’s office. In addition, the judge ruled that Chiddister is banned from having any animals in the future.

Sheriff Marceno gave the following comment after the Sheriff’s Office gained custody of Sheeba: “The citizens of this county can rest assured knowing that Sheeba is no longer going back to the environment where she can be abused or neglected.”

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is imperative that you seek out legal advice from a skilled defense attorney in Tallahassee, FL. Navigating the legal world is intimidating, and the last thing you want to feel is that you have to go it alone. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the state of Florida for various crimes. They understand the importance of strategizing a strong defense to your case. For a free consultation, call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.

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