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Animal Abuse PC 597 in California

California Penal Code Section 597 PC is a law that prohibits harming an animal. Animal abuse includes neglect or failure to provide an animal with food, drink, or shelter. The law also prohibits overworking animals used for labor. Unfortunately, some people are falsely accused of animal abuse because the accuser has a personal vendetta against the animal owner. If you are accused of animal abuse and facing criminal charges, talk to an experienced local East Bay criminal defense lawyer for help.

Penal Code 597 PC Text

Under California Penal Code Section 597, “every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of a crime.”

Animal abuse can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the individual case. It is also a crime for anyone to: 

  • Overdrive,
  • Overload,
  • Overwork,
  • Torture,
  • Deprive of sustenance, drink or shelter,
  • Cruelly beat,
  • Subject to needless suffering,
  • Inflicts unnecessary cruelty, or 
  • In any manner abuses any animal.

Elements of the Offense

To be convicted of a crime, the defendant has to plead guilty or be found guilty by the judge or jury. In order to get a conviction, the prosecutor has to prove all the elements of the offense for each charge. Each element has to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is any doubt that even one element is not met, the defendant should not be found guilty.  

Under the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, to prove the defendant is guilty of PC 597(a), the prosecutor must prove that: 

  1. The defendant maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed a living animal; AND 
  2. The defendant acted maliciously.

Torture means every act, failure to act, or neglect that causes or permits unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering.

Maiming means disabling or disfiguring an animal permanently or depriving it of a limb, organ, or other part of the body.

Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the unlawful intent to disturb, annoy, or injure an animal. 

Domestic Violence Charges for Animal Abuse

Allegations of animal abuse often come up in cases of alleged domestic violence. When a couple shares ownership of a pet, the break-up can put the animal between the fighting partners. Domestic disputes can get very emotional and often get out of hand. This can lead to allegations that one partner is abusing the animal to get back at the other person. 

Fighting back against false claims of animal abuse can be very difficult because there is often no proof of abuse. In some cases, the accuser may even harm a dog or cat just to provide false evidence that the accused committed a crime. Any false allegations of abuse against a pet, child, or partner, should be taken very seriously and handled by your lawyer instead of trying to clear things up on your own. 

Protective Orders for Animals

In California, protective orders can be used in cases of domestic violence or stalking to prohibit contact between the parties of the order. Restraining orders may include personal conduct orders, stay-away orders, and residence exclusion orders. The orders may also apply to members of the individual's immediate family. 

Under California Family Code 6320, “the court may include in a protective order a grant to the petitioner of the exclusive care, possession, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either the petitioner or the respondent or a minor child residing in the residence or household of either the petitioner or the respondent.”

A protective order may also require the respondent to “stay away from the animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, harming, or otherwise disposing of the animal.”

Leaving a Pet in an Unattended Vehicle

In a reaction to pets dying in unattended cars, California enacted a criminal law against leaving pets in an unattended vehicle. However, the law does not take into account real world situations. For example, if someone ran into a store to drop something off and they were only gone for 30 seconds, they may still be treated the same as someone who left their dog in the car for hours. 

Under California Penal Code 597.7, “a person shall not leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”

Even if the animal is not injured, the penalties for a first conviction are punishable by a fine of up to $100 per animal. If the animal suffers great bodily injury, the crime is punishable by a fine of up to $500, and imprisonment in a county jail for up to 6 months. 

Defense Strategies for Animal Abuse Charges in California

In many animal abuse cases, there is not much direct evidence tying alleged abuse to the defendant. It is often a case of your word against another. Do not let the lack of evidence be a reason for pleading guilty when you are innocent. 

Just because the police and prosecutor act like you are guilty does not mean you don't have the right to defend yourself in court. If you are charged with animal abuse in the East Bay, talk to your lawyer about your criminal defense strategies

Defense Lawyer for Animal Abuse Charges in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 37 years of criminal defense experience and understands how difficult it can be facing allegations of abuse. Representing residents of Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local criminal laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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