DeSantis Signs Bill Against Police Dog Abuse

May 31, 2023 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

It is common for law enforcement officers to employ police dogs, or K9s, to help with the investigation and apprehension of criminal suspects. Unfortunately, working in the field with police officers can be dangerous, and can result in injury or untimely death to the police K9.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a new bill to further protect police K9s while in the line of duty. The new bill makes the penalties more severe for any person who injures a police dog or horse, in addition to allowing medical professionals to provide emergency services to law enforcement animals.

This page will provide details on the new bill, along with previous Florida bills for law enforcement animals, and related animal cruelty charges in Florida.

HB 1047

Titled “Offenses Against Certain Animals,” the new bill prohibits any person from committing violence against a police dog or police horse in certain circumstances. Added to Section 2 of Florida Statute Section 843.01 now reads:

“Whoever knowingly and willfully resists, obstructs, or opposes a police canine or police horse working at the direction of or in tandem with any officer or legally authorized person listed in subsection (1), by offering or doing violence to the police canine or police horse, commits a felony in the third degree.”

HB 1047 also amends Florida Statute Section 843.19 titled “Offenses Against Police Canines, Fire Canines, search and rescue (SAR) Canines, or Police Horses” to be one degree higher in severity.

For example, any person who actually and intentionally maliciously strikes, touches, or causes bodily harm to a police canine, fire canine, SAR canine, or police horse now commits a third-degree felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Any person who intentionally or knowingly maliciously harasses, teases, interferes or attempts to interfere with a police canine, fire canine, SAR canine, or police horse while the animal is performing its duties now commits a first-degree misdemeanor instead of a second-degree misdemeanor.

Florida law defines a “police canine” and “police horse” as any dog or horse owned or used in the service of employment by a law enforcement agency or a correctional agency for the principal purpose of aiding in the detection of criminal activity, enforcement of laws, or the apprehension of offenders.

A “fire canine” is defined as a dog owned or employed by a fire department, special fire district, or the State Fire Marshal for aiding in the detection of flammable materials or the investigation of a fire.

An “SAR canine” is defined as any search and rescue dog that is owned or employed by a fire department, law enforcement agency, correctional agency, special fire district, or State Fire Marshal for the purpose of aiding in the detection of missing persons, including people who are lost, trapped under debris, or drowning. 

Important: The Statute states that any person who is convicted of an offense under this section will be required to pay restitution for the injuries caused to the canine or horse, as well as pay for the replacement cost for the animal if it can no longer perform its duties.

Previous Bills for Animal Responders

This is not the first bill Gov. DeSantis has signed in favor of protecting law enforcement animals. In 2019, DeSantis signed SB 96 titled the “Fang Memorial Bill” in memorial for the tragic death of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s K9, Fang.

With the passing of SB 96, the law raised the penalties for killing a police dog, fire dog, SAR dog, or police horse from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. The increase triples the possible imprisonment from five to 15 years, along with raising the possible fines from $5,000 to $10,000.

The following is a statement from DeSantis after passing SB 96:

“I am proud to recognize the incredible work K9 and service animals have done for our community. They catch drugs and subdue criminals. They’re very good at it. When they are told to find somebody they find them big time. These are animals that are placed in harm’s way and doing so to protect our communities.”

In 2021, DeSantis signed another bill addressed towards law enforcement canines and horses. SB 388 titled “Treatment of Injured Police Canine” allows for paramedics and emergency medical technicians to provide treatment or transport injured police K9s.

Florida Statute Section 401.254(2-3) explains that an individual with a valid permit for the transport vehicle can transport an injured police or other law enforcement canine to a veterinary hospital if there is no individual requiring medical attention or transportation. In addition, a paramedic or emergency medical technician can provide emergency medical assistance to any injured police canine who has been injured in the line of duty.

“I think this is something that’s overdue,” DeSantis said in a press conference. “I think it will end up potentially saving the lives of some of our K9s, and I know that’s something that many of us would like to see.”

Data on Police K9s

According to a study on K9s Killed in the Line of Duty, there were an estimated 96 police K9s who were killed in the U.S. during the line of duty between 2011 and 2015. The main cause of death of police K9s was heat exhaustion, followed by gunfire and getting hit by an automobile.

The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) is a non-profit organization for the fallen officers and K9 officers who have died while in the line of duty. Based on their annual Honor Roll of Heroes, there have been seven K9 line of duty deaths in 2023 so far, due to the following causes:  

  • Automobile Crash – 1
  • Animal Related – 1
  • Duty-related Illness – 1
  • Gunfire – 3
  • Stabbed – 1

Animal Cruelty Charges in Florida

What are the charges for a person accused of injuring an animal that is not employed through law enforcement? Florida has laws against animal abuse, which is codified under Statute Section 828.12.

Any person who is accused of unnecessarily overloading, overdriving, tormenting, or depriving any animal of the necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates or kills any animal can face a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Any person who is accused of intentionally committing an act to any animal, or a person who owns or has custody of an animal and fails to act, which results in the animal’s cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain commits aggravated animal cruelty. Aggravated animal cruelty can result in the defendant facing a third-degree felony. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

It is also considered a third-degree felony for any person who intentionally trips, ropes, fells, or lassos the legs of a horse for the purpose of entertainment or sport.

Important: A person accused of committing multiple acts of animal cruelty or aggravated animal cruelty can face a separate charge for each alleged act towards the animal. In addition, acts of animal cruelty or aggravated animal cruelty against multiple animals can result in separate charges for each animal.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or someone you love has been accused of animal cruelty, it is in your best interest to speak with a legal professional. Florida has stiff penalties in place for those who are accused of harming animals. With HB 1047’s passing, State Attorneys will prosecute any person accused of harming a law enforcement animal harshly. If convicted, you could face expensive penalties and imprisonment.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have years of experience representing those in Florida who need criminal defense. Our firm understands the nuances of the legal world and can provide guidance and knowledge throughout the entire process. If you need aggressive defense, contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message for a free consultation.

Written by Karissa Key

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