Webinar presenter Jessica Rock answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Creating an Animal Abuse Task Force: How Law Enforcement Can Work With Local Resources to Investigate and Prosecute Crimes. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Do you require that animals be held as evidence until the completion of the case?
Jessica Rock: No. What I try to do is keep law enforcement to get an owner surrender. So as long as we have an owner surrender and we’ve collected whatever evidence we need, we try to get those animals moved on, adopted into new loving homes and we do not show them for evidence unless we have to. The only time we have to is if the owner has not surrendered the right to that animal. We are fortunate that even if they don’t in Georgia there’s a number of ways that we can file motions or get into court, those other ways that we can try to get a legal surrender of ownership from a judge. Even if the person won’t surrender ownership. So, no. There are number of ways that we cannot have that happen. In my opinion, we really shouldn’t ever have that happen unless we just don’t have any mechanisms for that law state but I’m pretty sure most states have ways that we can do that. even if it’s a matter of, again this is another great way – reason to have a task force to try to get people to educate judges about why, if there is live evidence in cases and that live evidence was being held somewhere that we need to move that came along so that we quickly – so that live evidence were not taking that live evidence out of a horrible situation and leaving it in a horrible situation while the case is ending.
Audience Question: What do you think about having a special court program for animal cruelty offenders? What are your thoughts?
Jessica Rock: I think if you have a judge in your jurisdiction who’s willing to do that, I think that’s a great idea. I think that there’s – depending on the jurisdiction that you’re in there’s probably not a ton of animal crime cases. But if you do have a judge who’s willing to do that, I think it’s a great idea because I do think it helps put some type of importance on these cases and really does kind of help the sensitivity on those cases be somewhat streamlined. And, yeah, I think it’s a great idea if you have a judge willing to do it.
Audience Question: If a defendant is acquitted, is restitution for care for the animals until the court date is, is it impossible to collect that restitution? How does that work?
Jessica Rock: What happens physically is if somebody is acquitted of, they don’t owe for the cost for caring for the animal because we’re saying that they got acquitted of the crime. So the way that our law works here in Georgia we’re not allowed restitution if in fact, and this is not under the criminal law. We’re not allowed to speak restitution if the person is acquitted.
Audience Question: Anne’s suggesting that sometimes the Fire Department often have FLIR cameras. Check with your local fire department and see they have one before you go out and buy your own.
Jessica Rock: I always love it when somebody tells me something and I don’t think about or don’t know when I do these. So, thank you whoever said that because I did not know that.
Audience Question: Are local DAs states that we should try and get our state reps to change the law or make stricter ones. Well, that’s a great long term plan. Our DAs tend to plea bargain everything, even some of the most heinous child abuse cases and then hold punishments for those cases, up as examples, as to why aren’t there harsher punishments for animal abusers? It’s incredibly frustrating and he’s running unopposed so we can’t change the regime – at least not right now. How can we change this small town good’ ol boy networks and start making progress on some of these areas?
Jessica Rock: I get asked this question probably once a day. So I do understand the frustration whomever asked these questions, probably lives in a state like mine where we do have a lot of rural areas and animals crimes are by far not the first thing on their agenda and I do find though – and I will say this and I will keep repeating this. I really do find it due to the lack of education and this is why I do what I do. I have learned over the years not to approach law enforcement in certain areas about animal law. I learned that got go in there with – okay, here’s dogfighting, here are all the different crimes that are so closely connected to dogfighting. So, if I have a gang prosecutor for example – I’m working in Georgia our gang resource prosecutor, and I’ll say to him, “How can we put our heads together to talk to the gang folks about why we need more attention to dogfighting cases because it if they investigate the dogfighting cases or they know the dogfighting law, it’s another tool for them to investigate these gang folks.” Same with my drug task force guys and so same with some of my domestic violence investigators. So I do a lot of training that is strictly into domestic violence investigators and the reason I do that is because those are some of the folks who are seen as more first-hand than some of our other investigators and so you can’t always approach this with the animal aspect. You’ve got to sort tie it into all of these other human crimes that we’re investigating and talk about why we all need to understand and communicate and coordinate when we’re seeing these different types of crimes if that makes sense. So it might just be reframing the conversation, as to why you really need to start handling these pieces a little bit differently.
Audience Question: Our experience is that it’s difficult to keep an animal marked with unique identification particularly in livestock cases for chain of custody. Do you have any suggestions and again it’s specifically around livestock for chain of custody issues?
Jessica Rock: You just got to figure out a way to label these animals and collect the evidence from that animal while it’s labeled. I don’t necessarily think that you have to keep a label on that evidence for until the end of time you just need to keep it – the animal labeled and be sure that whatever the veterinarian is saying corresponds to the number of that particular animal when it’s logged into evidence. So you just kind of come up with some type of system. And again the system is for when you’re collecting your evidence not until the end of time. You just have to have a way to differentiate when you’re documenting the harm done to each particular animal. You got to have some type of system in place to document what harm corresponds to what animal. It doesn’t have to be forever; it just needs to be at least while you’re collecting that evidence so you could articulate what harm was done to what animal.
Audience Question: As a prosecutor, would you like to have a court advocate program similar to the ones like in Connecticut?
Jessica Rock: I think any type of advocacy is helpful. Again as long as the right people are doing it and the people are doing it for the right reasons. So certainly. I think anybody who has a passion for spreading the word about these types of cases and why we really need to pay more attention to them, I think is always very helpful. So certainly.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Creating an Animal Abuse Task Force: How Law Enforcement Can Work With Local Resources to Investigate and Prosecute Crimes.