By Kim Campbell Thornton
April 21, 2014
Bad news for pets in Oregon. Aimee Green in The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who starved her dog, saying that pets are property. The judges based their decision on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the dog without a warrant.
In reversing the 2011 misdemeanor conviction of Amanda L. Newcomb, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that animals are living beings but they are also property under the eyes of the law. And that doesn’t trump their owners’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The dog was seized after the Oregon Humane Society received information that Newcomb was mistreating the dog. An animal-cruelty investigator found the dog to be in “a near-emaciated condition” and took the dog to an OHS veterinarian–without first getting a warrant.
Newcomb was charged with second-degree animal neglect. Her defense was that her Fourth Amendment rights protecting her from unreasonable search and seizure had been violated.
A lower court had sentenced Newcomb to one year of probation and had forbidden her to own animals for five years. That sentence is now vacated and Newcomb is not expected to be retried since the evidence against her is not admissible.
On the other side of the country, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday for the first time that police can legally enter private property without a search warrant to rescue endangered animals, reports John R. Ellement for the Boston Globe. The decision extends the same authority long used by police to save the lives of people.
“The question is one of first impression for this court,’’ Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the unanimous court. “In agreement with a number of courts in other jurisdictions that have considered the issue, we conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, animals, like humans, should be afforded the protection of the emergency aid exception.”
The SJC ruling was hailed as a reason for celebration by animal advocacy groups, but generated a warning from the defendant’s attorney that the ruling was so vaguely worded that police can claim concern about an ant farm or a goldfish to bypass privacy rights.