Double Jeopardy for Abused AnimalsJanuary 31st, 2007
(Portland, Oregon) ALDF has joined a lawsuit to reverse an Oregon ballot measure meant to protect the rights of criminal defendants, but which sentences already abused and neglected companion animals to drawn-out stretches behind bars in overburdened shelters.
The double whammy for mistreated animals is a negative side effect of Measure 3, an amendment to the state constitution approved by Oregon voters last November. Known as the Property Protection Act, the civil liberties-minded measure prohibits the state from confiscating defendants' property before they've been convicted of a crime.
Unfortunately — because American courts view animals as possessions, no different from furniture or household appliances — the change also lets defendants charged with abusing or neglecting animals retain "ownership" of their victims. In practice, this means that instead of placing mistreated animals for adoption, the state must keep them warehoused in shelters until the conclusion of the case — a process that can take months or even years.
Stephan Otto, an attorney with ALDF's Anti-Cruelty Division in Portland, Ore., saw the impact first-hand when he supported an effort to allow 53 animals seized in a neglect case — 19 dogs, 11 cats, 19 birds and four marsupials — to be placed with good homes. The judge, citing Measure 3, sent them instead to a shelter for an indefinite stay.
"Oregon's voters never meant to add to the suffering of abused and neglected animals," Otto said. "They want due process for criminal defendants, but they also want justice for animals. Measure 3 was a mistake.
"The animal forfeiture law in effect before Measure 3 had built-in safeguards to protect innocent people, and at the same time allowed us to help reduce the suffering of mistreated animals," he said. "Now we have nothing."
In addition to suing to overturn the measure, ALDF is supporting a move in the state legislature to send the issue back to the voters for clarification.