Laws, Charges, Punishments, and Legal Defenses for Cruelty to Animals (Florida Statute 828.12)

If you or a member of your family have been charged with Cruelty to Animals in the State of Florida, do not delay and discuss your legal rights and potential defenses with an experienced attorney. A Cruelty to Animals conviction on your criminal record will almost guarantee that you will suffer devastating life-long consequences such as:

  • termination from employment,
  • disqualification of governmental loans,
  • revocation of professional, occupation licenses,
  • rejection of student grants, scholarship, and/or loans,
  • denial of business permits,
  • denial of business licenses,
  • loss of future promotion opportunities,
  • damage to public reputation,
  • being turned down for employment opportunities, and
  • many other life-long hardships.

Now is the time to protect your legal rights by fighting your Florida criminal charges in order to safeguard your future.

What Does Florida Law Consider Animal Cruelty?

According to Florida Statute 828.12, cruelty to animals covers numerous types of actions against all types of animals, including farm animals raised for food consumption. In the State of Florida, law enforcement may charge an individual with misdemeanor or felony animal cruelty charges. The charges filed will depend upon the circumstances and facts of the alleged criminal act. Typically, Florida charges an individual for a misdemeanor when the act of cruelty to animals was a one-time occurrence. Whereas, felony animal cruelty charges are filed against those who have engaged in ongoing, persistent acts of animal cruelty.

In 2018, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a new law that empowers judges to give more severe punishments to defendants who are convicted of felony animal cruelty, and Ponce’s Law also prevents repeat offenders from being able to own pets in the future.

The follow are the most common forms of Animal Cruelty in the State of Florida:

  • Baiting
  • Killing
  • Maiming
  • Malnutrition
  • Mutilation
  • Neglect
  • Poisoning
  • Starvation
  • Transporting in a cruel manner
  • Torturing
  • Use in fighting games
  • Willfully causing pain and injury

One of the most important reasons for retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney is to find potential defenses to discharge or reduces the criminal charges filed against the defendant.

One defense strategy is called the “Justifiable Force” defense strategy. In Florida, the courts consider whether or not the defendant was justified in acting out the alleged abuse. In some cases, it may be necessary and justifiable for an individual to treat an animal in an inhumane way. For example, a witness might have reported to law enforcement that they witnessed the defendant striking a dog with a stick, but the witness may not have known the dog was mauling a small child. In this case, the judge may be persuaded by defense counsel to drop the charges against the defendant because the defendant was justified in using force against the dog.

An experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney will review the facts and circumstances of a criminal case to determine the most suitable defense strategy to use in the criminal trial. The better the strategy, the more likely the prosecution will be willing to reduce the criminal charges or work with the defense attorney to plead down a criminal charge. An effective defense strategy may also have the defendant´s case thrown out by the judge or result in a “not guilty” verdict by a judge or jury.

Misdemeanor Animal Cruelty Criminal Charges in Florida

Florida prosecutors have the authority to bring either a misdemeanor or felony charge against a defendant who has been accused of committing acts of animal cruelty. The facts and circumstances of your criminal case will determine the specific charge that will be filed against a defendant. If a defendant is facing a charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty in the first degree, the punishments if found guilty include:

• A fine of up to $5,000

• A jail sentence of up to one year

Misdemeanor animal cruelty charges are typically filed against individuals who either directly engaged in abusive actions against an animal or those individuals who witnessed others engaged in animal cruelty and did nothing to stop or prevent animal cruelty. If an individual has been accused of repeat acts of animal cruelty, the defendant may receive a felony criminal charge.

Aggravated Animal Cruelty Charges in Florida

If the accusations made against a defendant are more serious and are of a repetitive nature, the prosecution could bring a criminal charge of aggravated animal cruelty. In the State of Florida, a criminal offense of Aggravated Animal Cruelty necessitates proof that the defendant acted in a way that was intentional results in an animal´s cruel death. Aggravated Animal Cruelty charges could be brought against individuals accused of excessive cruel acts on animals or suspects who have engaged in repeated acts of cruelty against animals. If an individual has witnessed acts of animal cruelty, but fails to prevent the cruel acts, he or she may face criminal charges as well.

Aggravated animal cruelty is a felony in the third-degree in Florida. If a defendant is found guilty of Aggravated animal cruelty, the penalties will be much more severe than that of a misdemeanor charge. According to Florida Statute 828.12(2), individuals who are found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals could receive the following punishments:

  • A prison sentence of up to 5 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

If the justice court determines that the animal abuse was intentional, the defendant could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $10,000, and he or she could be sentenced up to 5 years in prison. The justice court may also require the defendant to undergo psychological counseling and/or attend an anger management program. All fines and prison sentences could be increased if the defendant has a history of past aggravated animal cruelty charges. Also, the court could require the defendant to undergo anger management classes and/or psychological counseling if the court finds the acts were intentional.

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