Differentiating Aggravated Cruelty to Animals and Torturing Animals: NY AML 353-a[1][i] v. NY AML 353

Animal cruelty, whether in violation of a criminal statute or an otherwise intentional, callous and malicious act or acts, is simply horrendous. Whether one wears the hat of a District Attorney, criminal defense lawyer, judge or person who merely cares about the well-being of others living things, committing acts of violence and seeking to cause pain to animals is unconscionable. When you commit certain acts against animals, regardless of the size, age, or health of the same, your actions may be punishable as a crime pursuant to Agriculture and Markets Law 353 or 353-a[1][i]. These crimes, “Overriding, Torturing and Injuring Animals” and “Aggravated Cruelty to Animals” respectively, are class “A” misdemeanors and “E” felonies. While the former is punishable by as much as one year in a county jail, the latter has a potential sentence of up to four years in prison.

The issue addressed by this blog is to briefly describe the two offenses and differentiate the crimes.

The more serious offense of AML 353-a[1][i] makes it a crime of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals when, with no justifiable purpose, you intentionally kill or cause serious physical injury to a companion animal with “aggravated cruelty.” Defined within the statute, “aggravated cruelty” is an act that is intended to cause extreme physical pain or, alternatively, is done in a manner that is especially depraved or sadistic.

Clearly not in the same category of crimes as Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, AML 353 has a lower threshold and different elements. If you overdrive torture, cruelly beat, unjustifiably injure or kill any animal or deprive that animal of necessary food or water, you are guilty of this misdemeanor. Additionally, if you allow or permit this to happen to an animal, you have violated the law.

While these crimes are not often litigated to the same extent as some similar level offenses found in the New York Penal Law, a recent decision helps shed some light on these crimes. In People v. Jones, 2017 NY Slip Op. 7171 (1st Dept. 2017), the defendant was convicted of killing a parakeet. Arguing that his conviction for Aggravated Cruelty to Animals was legally insufficient and instead he should have been convicted of the lesser misdemeanor crime of AML 353, the defendant argued that the killing was “ordinary” and so instantaneous that it would not have caused extreme pain to the bird. Despite the defendant’s argument, the Appellate Division disagreed asserting that when the defendant crushed the bird flat between the bars of its cage the trial court could have made a reasonable inference that this action caused the bird extreme physical pain.

Whether the above case provides any guidance as to what violates AML 353 versus AML 353-a[1][i] is debatable. Without graphically describing other means to kill an animal, one could argue, whether beyond a reasonable doubt or not, that varying acts could sustain a conviction for either count. If nothing else, Jones can and should serve as a notice. Kill an animal in a way that a reasonable person could find caused the animal extreme pain at your own discretion. Not many juries, judges or prosecutors will be swayed away from pushing the proverbial legal envelope to prosecute an offender for the more serious offense.

To educate yourself on the New York criminal law, including crimes involving the Agriculture and Markets Law as they relate to animal cruelty, review the links above and this blog.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm. Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients in New York City, the Hudson Valley and municipalities throughout the State of New York.

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