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Virginia pet cruelty criminal defense – Even omission can become a crime

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Virginia pet cruelty criminal law needs to be understood before taking a dog or cat as a companion animal

Virginia pet cruelty criminal law can be unforgiving. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I urge people to familiarize themselves with the key pet welfare statute that I discuss here, which is Virginia Code § 3.26570.   Recently, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed a bench trial conviction for felony inhumane treatment of his dog based on neglect, here so gross that by leaving his dog in urine and feces in the car that a veterinarian “testified that lying in excrement for ‘an extended period of time’ could cause the dog’s skin to degrade, leading to infection, and that the dog had, in fact, developed an infection that would eventually cause his death.” Furthermore, were signs that the dog’s genitalia were rotting, The police officer who worked with animal control was gagging from the stench. Harner v. Virginia, Record No. 0756-21-3 (Va. App., June 28, 2022) (unpublished). None of this sets the stage for much if any sympathy for the defendant. 

What felony provision got Harner convicted for violating the Virginia pet cruelty criminal law

Harner was convicted under Virginia Code § 3.2-6570(F) of the pet cruelty criminal law,  which provides in pertinent part that: “Any person who (i) tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation, or cruelly and unnecessarily beats, maims, or mutilates any dog or cat that is a companion animal whether belonging to him or another and (ii) as a direct result causes serious bodily injury to such dog or cat that is a companion animal, the death of such dog or cat that is a companion animal, or the euthanasia of such animal on the recommendation of a licensed veterinarian upon determination that such euthanasia was necessary due to the condition of the animal is guilty of a Class 6 felony.”

Why was Harner convicted of felony animal cruelty if the evidence was lacking of any conscious effort at memorable cruelty?

The Virginia Court of Appeals answers the foregoing question as follows in this Virginia pet cruelty case: “We determined in Pelloni, [, 65 Va. App. 733 (2016)] as we do here, that to violate Code § 3.2-6570, a defendant need not intend to inflict ‘inhumane injury or pain’ upon the animal, but the evidence must support a rational finding that he or she ‘created a situation . . . “which [made] it not improbable that injury [would] be occasioned, and [she knew], or [was] charged with the knowledge of, the probable consequences of [her] acts.”’Harner. 

What are some common Virginia misdemeanor prohibitions under the Virginia pet cruelty law?

The same Virginia pet cruelty statute that provides for the foregoing felony outcome, also has the following Class I misdemeanor provision that may convince at least some companion humans to care for their animal companions better: A person may not “maliciously deprives any companion animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.” Virginia Code § 3.2-6570.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz tailor makes each defense against Virginia DUI, felony and misdemeanor prosecutions, according to the defendant’s preferences and case situation, as if the defendant’s life depended on it, which often is the case. Call 703-383-1100.