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Michael Vick Banned from Dog Ownership – Ask an Attorney

December 27, 2010




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From Animal Legal Defense Fund

NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who served 18 months in prison after a felony conviction in 2007 for his widely publicized involvement in dogfighting—including shooting, electrocuting, and hanging dogs who did not perform well in the ring—recently stated publicly that he wants to own a dog and believes it would be good for his rehabilitation process. His federal sentence included a three-year ban on the possession of a dog.

In this Q&A session, attorney Scott Heiser, director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Program, answers some questions and provides some clarification relating to the current debate about whether Michael Vick should be allowed to own a pet dog.

Q: When are judges allowed to impose an animal ownership ban on convicted abusers?

A: Many states require a trial judge to expressly impose a ban on possessing animals (PDF | below as well) as part of a sentence for animal cruelty or fighting. For example, in Virginia, the home state of Mr. Vick’s criminal enterprise “Bad Newz Kennels,” as part of a dogfighting sentence the court is now required to ban an offender from possessing or owning companion animals or fighting birds. It is significant to note that in March 2008, in the wake of the Vick case, the Virginia Legislative Assembly chose to amend the law to make an animal possession ban amandatory rather than discretionary part of a trial judge’s dogfighting sentence.See, Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6571(D) (2010) (as amended March 2008, cc. 543).

Divesting all state trial judges of the authority to balance the risks a dogfighter presents to the community in deciding to impose a post-conviction possession ban is a substantial change in the law. It is a sound policy choice predicated on the common sense notion that those who exploit vulnerable victims should not be allowed further access to the offender’s preferred pool of victims.

Q: Is there such a thing as a lifetime ban for convicted abusers?

A: Court ordered long-term or lifetime possession bans are hard (if not impossible) to enforce—it is a jurisdictional issue. This area of the law can prove a bit confusing. However, as a general rule, a trial judge only has jurisdiction over a sentenced defendant during the life of the case, and in most mid- to low-level felonies that is between three to ten years. Once the clock has run out, the court no longer has the authority to haul an offender back in on a probation violation—it loses jurisdiction. This begs the question: how is it that one can be subject to a long-term or lifetime ban on anything? The answer is simple: make the possession of the item (or the regulation of undesired conduct) a new criminal offense.

Think “ex-con in possession of a firearm.” It is the prior felony conviction that provides the foundation for a new criminal offense when a felon acquires a gun. Moreover, it is this new criminal offense that allows the duration of the gun possession ban to outlast the duration of trial courts jurisdiction to supervise the offender in the underlying felony case. The same is true for those states with long-term animal possession bans. For example, in Oregon, a first conviction for dogfighting triggers application of Or. Rev. Stat. 167.332 and a 15-year ban on possessing animals. Any convicted dogfighter who is caught in possession of a domestic animal during that timeframe commits a new criminal offense. This de facto possession ban is a product of the underlying dogfighting conviction and applies by operation of law in cases where the sentencing court’s maximum jurisdictional duration in the dogfighting case is only six years after conviction.See, Or. Rev. Stat. 137.010(4), 167.332 and 167.365.

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Some trial courts have imposed a lifetime animal possession ban, but the enforceability of these orders, while highly suspect, is a direct function of the court’s jurisdictional authority to hold a person in contempt for violating an order contained in a criminal judgment that has otherwise lapsed—it gets a bit complicated here. Nevertheless, a few states have enacted ostensible permanent post-conviction animal possession bans for repeat offenders. See, Wash. Rev. Stat. § 16.52.200(3)(permanent ban authorized for repeat offenders); NY Ag. & Mkts. Law § 374(5)(c) (court may impose possession ban “for a period of time which the court deems reasonable”); 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 70/3.04(c) (same). The State of Maine, as part of its battery of civil remedies enacted to supplement its animal cruelty code, includes an option for the court to impose a permanent ban, which would be enforceable by contempt. ME Rev. Stat, title 7, § 4016(1)(C). Contrast these examples with Pennsylvania, where the post-conviction possession ban on animals is expressly limited to the statutory maximum term of imprisonment applicable to the underlying offense.

Mr. Vick’s federal sentence contains a three-year possession ban. Should it have been permanent? We at ALDF certainly think so, but we have to recognize the jurisdictional limits inherent in our justice system. However, under no circumstances should anyone who has engaged in criminal conduct similar to that of Mr. Vick’s enjoy a premature waiver of an animal possession ban. It is just not worth the risk.

Q: Do courts impose other kinds of bans on convicted felons who have already “served their time”?

A: In addition to firearms and animal possession bans, other examples of where a defendant’s conduct can be regulated long after the term of probation or post-prison supervision has expired include the denial of driving privileges for habitual traffic offenders and the requirement that sex offenders register their addresses with local law enforcement. However, in these cases, as with firearms cases (and in some states, animals), there is generally a separate statutory provision requiring offender compliance that outlives the lifespan of the judgment entered on the underlying offense. These statutes are the cleanest path to create easily enforceable long-term (or lifetime) requirements that offenders abstain from conduct or otherwise comply with an apparent judicial edict, avoiding all issues related to the viability of the court’s order over time.

Q: What are the legal rationales for ownership bans for convicted abusers like Michael Vick?

A: Animal abusers pose a very real risk to the community. The seminal study on this issue dates back to work started in 1975 and sustained over more than 20-years (i.e., 1975-1996). In what has proven to be one of the key findings from this long-term study, the Massachusetts SPCA and Northeastern University concluded that those who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse humans. It is no great leap in logic to draw the conclusion that if an animal abuser is five times more likely to escalate to human victims, then such an offender posses an even greater risk of re-victimizing the same silent population he has already preyed upon. In Mr. Vick’s case, such an obvious conclusion is even more compelling when one considers that Mr. Vick engaged in a sustained six-year criminal enterprise dedicated to profiting from gambling on the outcome of dogfights while using the most cruel and barbaric methods imaginable to manage his “kennel” and maximize his profits. The ongoing nature of his conduct remains serious cause for concern and understandably contributes to the enduring distrust of his repeated public assertions of remorse and reformation. Some additional yet basic risk factors one should consider in assessing Mr. Vick’s case and the continuing threat convicted abusers present to society include:

  1. The vulnerability of his victims;
  2. The large number of his victims;
  3. The number of victimizing incidents;
  4. The severity of the injury and methods used to kill;
  5. The duration of the abuse;
  6. The degree of pre-planning or premeditation;
  7. The existence of other criminal conduct at the scene of the animal abuse (e.g., drugs, gun law violations, gambling);
  8. The fact that this offender served as an instigator of criminal acts involving multiple other perpetrators; and
  9. The offender’s history of positive interactions with the victim animal(s) prior to the abuse.

In light of these factors, it is difficult to discern how Mr. Vick’s supporters could reasonably believe that he should be allowed to exercise control over another dog. The Animal Legal Defense Fund strongly disagrees with that view and recommends the longest possible ban on ownership be maintained. Whether his supporters are truly concerned about animal welfare or just too invested in Mr. Vick’s “comeback” to give a damn about the fate of the next dog who comes under Mr. Vick’s control—you will have to decide for yourself.

How You Can Help
Contact your state legislators and ask them to support a “First Strike and You’re Out” law for those who are convicted of animal neglect or cruelty. ALDF’s First Strike and You’re Out law provides another tool to help combat animal neglect and cruelty by mandating that those who are convicted of a violation of their state animal protection laws are prohibited from owning or having contact with animals for a set period of time, ranging from five years for a first misdemeanor offense up to the lifetime of the offender following a second felony offense.

RESOURCES

Online resources

ALDF provides citizen guides on what to do when anti-cruelty laws have been broken, what to do if your companion animal has been injured or killed, how to find an attorney, and many other resources available on our website.

Location to report animal cruelty

Citizens can report cases of animal cruelty to action1@aldf.org. Provide us with the name of the defendant, the county and state in which the crime occurred, the criminal charges, and a brief description of the crime. ALDF will offer free legal assistance to prosecutors after criminal charges have been filed and will advise citizens, as appropriate.


Statutes Restricting Ownership of Animals 2010

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there cannot be two sets of rules
one for the rich and blameless
another for us mere mortal fools
vick broke the laws of god and man
and the law has to do whatever it can
to ensure this killer is never around
any other living creature
he could run, aground

Karen Lyons Kalmenson


13 Comments leave one →
  1. Johnnie White permalink
    December 27, 2010 4:08 pm

    Woo Hoo, no to Micheal Vick, that’s a first and I hope its not the last . This human scum bag was never sorry, he was sorry he got caught because of the money, the jail time, and the fact that they didn’t let him go. but for the animals he never cared he never ever saw or cared about the ones that they saved. If he had wanted a dog wouldn’t he have wanted one that was saved from the mess he made??? He is no role model yet time named him as one of the top ten people for the year!! know where time has its head up its on ass. No one cares if he wasn’t a foot ball player they wouldn’t give you two cents for him, probably keep him in prison for his sentence. Oh, well thank goodness there are still some people around who use their brain, for real thinking . Thank you kind sirs for doing your job and doing it well.

    Like

  2. donna permalink
    December 27, 2010 4:47 pm

    I find that, what people seem to fail to see/read, is the fact that Michael Vick, when asking for a 2nd chance to own a dog is that, he ‘Is hoping to be able to get a dog because HIS KIDS keep asking him for one.. This reall annoys the hell out of me.. He’s using his kids for a dog.. He NEVER says, “I would like, speaking for myself, to be able for me to be allowed to have a dog”.. He still uses excuses.. I wouldn’t trust him w/my stuffed animals let alone allow him to pet my dogs.. He never showed emotions for what he did from day one.. I want what he did/still capable of, to have nightmares deep in his conscience to haunt him for life.. He took those dogs’ trust/faith & turned around & literly MURDERED them.. I still ask the man above to not have this BEAST of Burden GET AWAY w/these acts.. I hope/pray these poor babies in the near future get their JUSTICE..

    Like

  3. karen lyons kalmenson permalink
    December 28, 2010 5:38 am

    there cannot be two sets of rules
    one for the rich and blameless
    another for us mere mortal fools
    vick broke the laws of god and man
    and the law has to do whatever it can
    to ensure this killer is never around
    any other living creature
    he could run, aground

    Like

    • Irene permalink
      December 28, 2010 1:38 pm

      Beautiful. Well put.

      Like

    • LoVegan permalink
      December 29, 2010 9:01 am

      “vick broke the laws of god and man”. men forgave him (of course, they weren’t the victims), maybe god too. I do hope satan calls him back home soon, vick is a devil and belongs in hell. Thanks Karen x

      Like

  4. Irene permalink
    December 28, 2010 1:36 pm

    The law has become too grey. It’s very simple really. This sicko has proven that he is inherently an abusive person and there is no need to risk further potential suffering of innocent victims by him.
    My belief is he will continue to be himself as long as he can get away with it.
    If he were to have treated children this way would he even have been considered to be allowed to ever have another child in his ‘possession’?? Not in a million years!
    As I said, it’s really simple and blatantly obvious what the outcome to his wishes should be.
    My guess is he will probably vent his irritation to being caught out on this unsuspecting dog that he apparently wants. Watch this space. These people don’t change. They don’t just grow a sense of compassion and affection towards animals overnight. They either have it or they don’t.

    Like

  5. December 28, 2010 6:41 pm

    Shame on Obama for praising this man.
    Vick should NEVER be allowed to own any animal again.
    I would hate to think how many billions of dollars go towards weapons etc in the USA each year.
    How about providing a little extra for the animals in your shelters instead.
    While your at it…STOP HEARTSTICKING AND GASSING YOUR ANIMALS.
    THIS ISN’T NAZI GERMANY.

    Like

  6. LoVegan permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:58 am

    no need to say that in a normal world the scumbag would be in prison and nobody would ever think to give him ” a second chance” (why? he had 51 chances! And tortured them!). In a normal world the president of the United States would also think twice before giving his support to a criminal: http://www.care2.com/causes/animal-welfare/blog/obama-called-he-said-michael-vick-is-awesome/
    Unfortunately we don’t live in a normal world 😦
    Thanks Stacey

    Like

    • peri permalink
      December 30, 2010 7:00 pm

      u r right…51 that we KNOW of….

      Like

  7. December 29, 2010 11:00 pm

    This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article 🙂

    Like

  8. peri permalink
    December 30, 2010 6:57 pm

    If this psyco bastard is such a hero to you and rehabilated enough Obama, give him a chance to marry one of your daughters…he can “train ” her.

    Like

  9. Ruby Fleming permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:48 pm

    Some one needs to tell Obama to do his research! It is a fact that people who pray on animals are one step from praying on people. Fighting dogs is cruel it is part of who he is. A person who would do this does not change they just say they do or cover it up it is part of who they are. No feeling caring person would ever do this period. I rescue animals I see the uncaring hatful people. Creuelty is part of a persons make up they do not change. How in the world people could praise him in any way is beyond me. Does not matter your race , the amount of money you have, or where you are in the spot light being cruel and praying on defenseless animals and people is wrong.

    Like

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  1. When the President Calls About the Vick Dogs « Our Compass

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