Virginia Assembly Further Strengthens Dogfighting LawsMarch 5th, 2008
New Law Will Criminalize Organized Dogfighting, Allow Prosecutors to Charge Abusers Under RICO Laws
Richmond, Va. – The Virginia Assembly approved legislation today which criminalizes organized dogfighting, giving prosecutors increased power to go after dogfighting operations as organized criminal enterprises. The bill, written by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and patroned by state Senator W. Roscoe Reynolds, adds organized dogfighting to the list of crimes that may be prosecuted under the state’s RICO ("Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act") laws. The legislation now heads to Governor Tim Kaine for his signature. On Monday, the Virginia Senate approved House Bill 656, which included other provisions to toughen state animal fighting laws.
RICO—a powerful tool to combat organized criminal operations—has historically been used to address a wide variety of organized criminal efforts, including drug dealing, gambling, and trading in child pornography. Given the option to utilize RICO in a dogfighting operation, law enforcement authorities will now have increased abilities in seeking justice for the animals abused, and, as in the recent Michael Vick case, even killed by their owners. Currently, Oregon is the only state that includes dogfighting among the crimes that are RICO predicate acts.
While dogfighting is already illegal in Virginia, the ability to bring a state RICO case would provide specific advantages to law enforcement overseeing dogfighting investigations in Virginia, including:
- More comprehensive investigatory powers;
- Extended statutes of limitations;
- Longer sentences (in terms of both actual incarceration and the length of post-prison supervision);
- Larger fines;
- Pre-conviction "seize and freeze" of a defendant's assets; and
- Forfeiture of the assets used in, and gains generated from, the dogfighting activities.
These are key legal tools in combating organized dogfighting rings –
highly organized and guarded criminal enterprises that are extremely
difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.
"The vast majority of all dogfighting cases are discovered as a collateral matter to some other type of criminal investigation, be it a drug case, a gambling investigation or simply in response to a 911 dispatch to a domestic disturbance," says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Adding dogfighting as a RICO trigger gives law enforcement additional tools, and a strong incentive, to start directly targeting organized dogfighting rings—not to mention that it sends a very strong message to the dogfighting community that the stakes just got substantially higher. We salute the Virginia Assembly for taking this strong stand."