Agriculture and Markets Law 353: Intent, Knowledge and Animal Abuse in New York State

Certain crimes, whether ultimately proven by prosecutors beyond a reasonable doubt or successfully defended by New York criminal defense attorneys before or during trial, have a significant stigma associated with them. Crimes involving children rank high on this list of offenses, but those involving animals are not that far behind. Nobody, from New York judges to the Assistant District Attorneys who prosecute cases, has much sympathy where the allegations of an arrest or indictment involve animals. New York City may be the “concrete jungle,” but preying on animals will likely leave you locked up and facing a judge for your alleged indiscretions – willful or not. While each crime is unique, one statute that prosecutors use in their arsenal and that criminal defense lawyers find them selves challenging is Agriculture and Markets Law 353. This “A” misdemeanor, punishable with a permanent record by up to one year in jail, makes it a crime to deprive any animal of necessary sustenance, food or dink, or neglect or refuse to furnish that animal with such sustenance or drink. This blog entry will deal with the crime of AML 353 and the analysis of AML 353 in the context of case in New York City Criminal Court.

People v. Curtis Basile, No. 113, NYLJ 1202731078680, at *1 (Ct. of App., Decided July 1, 2015)

Acting on an anonymous tip of potential mistreatment of a dog, a special agent for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) responded to a residential address in Queens County. At trial evidence put forth by the prosecution established that a mix-breed German Shepard was tied to a fence with a four foot leash. The yard where the dog lived was terribly littered with garbage. The dog did not appear healthy and its bones bulged out of its skinny frame. Further, the animal had fly bites and these flies few around the dog’s head. Compounding matters, the dog had no access to food, water or shelter. The only positive piece of the testimony as that the defendant ultimately surrendered the dog. Ultimately, after presenting the evidence, the defendant was convicted of violating AML 353 and was sentenced to 45 days of community service along with three years of probation.

The issue on appeal was whether or not the judge had to instruct the jury that he knowingly deprived the dog or neglected or refused to furnish the basic necessities required to maintain the animal’s health. While insight and an answer to this issue would be beneficial, the court determined that the answer was irrelevant because the facts reflecting abuse were so clear. According to the Court:

“At defendant’s trial, the ASPCA agent recounted the dog’s visibly compromised state of health and living conditions, as described above. Concomitantly, the veterinarian who conducted a physical examination of the dog testified that the animal ‘had a variety of problems,’ the most significant of which was ‘that he had an emaciated body condition where there’s been extreme weight loss.’ In addition, the dog was ‘flea infested. He had open sores on his ears — something called fly strike[s] from biting flies. He was dirty and he was battling dehydration.’ The animal weighed 42.2 pounds, whereas the average weight of a healthy dog of the same type was approximately 60-62 pounds. The veterinarian explained that a dog with such an emaciated body condition has visually prominent skeletal structures due to the loss of fat and muscle tissue. On the animal condition scale, with 5 being the worst, the dog’s condition was 5 — i.e., ‘one step away from death.'”

The Court further recounted:

“To reduce the animal to the condition that he observed, the veterinarian testified that it would have taken the dog many weeks of starving — at least four to six — as fat and muscle tissue were burned due to the lack of a proper diet. In sum, it was ‘clear’ the dog was ‘underweight.’… There was no underlying disease as a cause of the animal’s emaciated condition. The dog also had overgrown nails, which indicated that it had not been exercised. In the veterinarian’s opinion, ‘[a] reasonable quality of life for a dog requires that [the animal] be provided with food, water and shelter, live in a reasonably clean environment and get at least a minimal amount of exercise. This dog was starved, lived in a filthy environment and got no exercise.’ Moreover, it is undisputed that defendant told the ASPCA agent that he could not afford to support the dog and he testified at trial that he had not been regularly feeding the animal.”

In concluding there was no issue as to whether the defendant knowingly abused the dog as per the statute, the Court looked to New York Penal Law 15.05(2). That statute states that  “[a] person acts knowingly with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists.” Here, there was no other object analysis of the evidence.

Although there is limited guidance as to whether the custodian of a pet must act knowingly, courts and juries can conclude your acts where knowing, reckless, intentional (or whatever the required mind set may be) based on the testimony and evidence in a given case.

To learn about AML 353 or other crimes, review this blog and the Saland Law PC website.

Saland Law PC is a criminal defense firm established by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent clients throughout the New York City region.

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