Criminals who torture, kill, poison, or cause serious bodily injury to animals in Texas can no longer expect to walk away with a slap on the wrist. Beginning in September, animal abuse will be elevated from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Third Degree Felony. These crimes will carry a punishment of two to 10 years in prison – or up to 20 years for repeat offenders. While many believe the change will encourage more guilty pleas, others fear the stiff penalties will lead to jury leniency.
Travis County Assistant District Attorney, Erik Nielsen, spoke to KXAN News regarding the possible outcomes associated with the new law:
“Certainly the idea of spending two years in a state jail facility versus, I might spend 10 years in a prison is something any defense attorney would really have to talk to their client about. But if they go to trial, it may persuade a jury in the opposite way and say we just don’t think killing this dog, or cat, or whatever the animal was, is worth 10 years in prison, eight years in prison.”
Other Third Degree Felonies include deadly conduct with a firearm, indecent exposure to a child, stalking, and third offense DWI. The severity of this category of crimes becomes apparent when compared to non-violent Class A Misdemeanors like perjury, check theft and possession of two to four ounces of marijuana.
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Texas Humane Legislation Network Executive Director, Laura Donahue says that crimes against animals are finally going to be handled as the serious violent offenses they are.
“The days of negligible prison sentences for the most heinous and violent acts of cruelty against our companion animals are officially a part of Texas history. Moving forward, the punishments will fit the crime.”
Others hope that the stiffer penalties for animal abusers will help to prevent future crimes against people. Natalie Lynch is a Houston prosecutor who volunteers with the Texas Humane Legislation Network. She has witnessed many animal abusers walk free, only to graduate to violent crimes involving human victims soon after.
“Stopping those people and getting them into the jails and getting them the help that they need, at the beginning. Because now there are actual consequences now that we have a new law,” Lynch said.
Governor Greg Abbott enacted Senate Bill 762 this weekend. On Monday, he also signed the bill making bestiality a crime in Texas.
H/T to KXAN.com
Featured Image via SPCA of Texas