ANIMALS ARE PROTECTED UNDER GEORGIA LAW TOO: PART 2
Last week I briefly discussed Georgia’s statute regarding misdemeanor cruelty to animals. This week I want to define and explain what constitutes a felony aggravated cruelty to animals under Georgia law. The distinction is minor but it makes a big difference in the criminal penalty a person might face.
O.C.G.A. § 16-12-4(d)(1)-(5) sets out 5 ways a person might be charged with aggravated cruelty to animals in Georgia. That code section states that a person commits aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she 1) maliciously causes the death of an animal; 2) maliciously cause physical harm to an animal by depriving it of a member of its body, by rendering a part of its body useless, or by seriously disfiguring the animal’s body; 3) maliciously tortures an animal by the infliction of or subjection to severe or prolonged physical pain; 4) maliciously administers poison to an animal, or exposes an animal to any poisonous substances, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal; or 5) having intentionally exercised custody, control, possession or ownership of an animal, maliciously fails to provide adequate food, water, sanitary conditions or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for the animal to the extent that the death of the animal occurs or a member of the animal’s body is rendered useless or is seriously disfigured. If a person is convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals, then he or she is guilty of a felony and faces a penalty of not less than 1 year nor more than 5 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $15,000 or both. A second or subsequent conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals exposes a person to a penalty of from 1 year up to 10 years in prison.
Some key words and phrases draw a distinction between the misdemeanor and the felony under this statute. First, you’ll notice the word “maliciously” in each of the five subsections defining aggravated cruelty to animals. This word simply means that the person had an “actual intent” to cause the particular harm produced on the animal, without justification or excuse. “Malice” can also mean the wanton and willful doing of an act with an awareness of the plain and strong likelihood that a particular harm may result. In plain terms, doing something “maliciously” means that a person intended to hurt the animal. Second, aggravated cruelty to animals requires either death or serious injury to the animal. Unlike the misdemeanor version, the injury to the animal must be more substantial to sustain a felony conviction. Finally, the statute provides a definition of “justification or excuse” as it applies to animals. A person is justified and excused in injuring or killing an animal when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes that such act is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of injury or damage to any person, other animal, or property. Therefore, if a person is attacked while walking down the street, then that person may use force that is necessary to defend themselves against injury by the animal.
Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.