Webinar presenter Jake Kamins answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Working with Your Local Vets: Creating Partnerships among Law Enforcement, Prosecution and your Veterinary Community. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Could a former animal control officer now a current law enforcement officer who has completed the University of Florida Veterinary forensic program, which I asked her is a 15 credit hour program, testify as an expert?
Jake Kamins: Great question. Thank you, Daniel. I think there is usually a legal test in courts as who can give expert testimony and usually and again, this is not state-specific. Check with your local prosecutors. The question is going to come down to does that person have specialized training and experience to where they have more information than an average witness would have. The kinds of things that you’re going to look at are the opportunity of the witness to have actually studied the field in which they’re testifying about. So certainly training that is accredited. It’s helpful in that regard. The kind of opportunity that they’ve had to actually work in the field. One thing that I would be careful about is not mixing training disciplines. So if you as an animal control officer got certain training that’s related to handling and care of animals. That’s not necessarily the same as training related to veterinary science. So one thing that I encourage all officers to do especially in animal cases is to make sure that your prosecutor knows any areas that you have been specially trained in because they may tailor their questions to get at that issue. Certainly, if you’ve taken a class in body condition scoring and have passed that class and it was an accredited class than that’s going to be something that you’re going to want to bring up if it forms the basis of your probable cause in a case. So, the answer is unfortunately as in most legal questions, it depends, but definitely make sure that you’re prosecuting attorney knows that you have specialized training and experience.
JCH: Dave says “As a forensic veterinarian based on the United Kingdom, working on welfare prosecutions based in private practice for over 20 years. I can assure you that community reputation is better when you do take a stand on the behalf of Animal Welfare, than when you bury your head in the sand. You gained far more clients from being seen to be prepared to stand up to people who abuse and neglect their animals and the clients that you lose are the clients that you did not want in the practice anyway.” Dave thank you so much for that. Really great comment.
Jake Kamins: I a hundred percent agree.
Audience Question: Did you ever pay veterinarians for their exam and prosecution participation?
Jake Kamins: So payment is an interesting issue. What I will tell you is that generally speaking on the prosecution end, if a veterinarian actually worked on your case they are going to receive the same witness fee as any other witness receives on a case. That is to say, they’ll get some mileage or you know, simple per day kind of fee. For law enforcement agencies, this is obviously this is a huge issue. As I mentioned, veterinarians are doing these cases in lieu of working with private clients. So they are going to want to know you know, how do they get paid for this. The other thing that you need to be aware of as a law enforcement agency is that courts are going to see veterinary services as investigation costs and not necessarily as restitution. So it may be that at the end of the case, you’re not actually going to get the money back from the defendant to pay those bills. What I encourage agencies to do is to come to an agreement in advance because the last thing that you want is a veterinarian putting hours and hours of work handing you an invoice and you sort of just shrugging your shoulders at them and saying well I hope you enjoyed doing that work for us. You want to make sure that they understand either there’s going to be a specific rate paid by the agency at the time of service or there’s going to be some understanding that they are doing this work as part of a team of veterinarians who provide these services without the expectation of getting paid right upfront. So what I would say is prosecutors for fact witnesses, which is witnesses who actually worked on the case, they’re not going to pay any additional fee. You know, it happens sometimes that I have cases where I need a veterinary expert and no veterinarian was actually consulted on the case. In that case, I’m in the world of having to find a veterinarian who will agree to come to testify as an expert witness as somebody who wasn’t involved in the case and at that point, they can kind of set their own rates and we can match them or not. So I would as with all the things that I mentioned in this presentation try to get this taken care of and it’s understanding before you actually find yourself in the middle of an animal cruelty case.
Audience Question: Are there any general or online resources to help introduce veterinarians to this process? She also asks as a veterinarian, what can she do to help go above and beyond just be available to law enforcement if needed? So she’s trying to find out if there are online resources and if there’s anything else you might be able to do to assist in prosecutions.
Jake Kamins: Well, I think I mean Justice Clearinghouses is a resource that does a lot of work-related to animal welfare issues. I think if I heard you right there and you were talking about a webinar coming up related to large animal cases and veterinarians’ involvement in those. I’m available. I don’t know specifically other agencies. I don’t know any prosecutors who would not take the time to speak to vets in their community about what it is that they can do to help these cases. If you find a prosecutor’s office that’s not interested in helping with that process, give me a call and I’ll shake them into compliance. Because you guys make or break our cases, frankly. So. if we’re not doing that work in advance then if you’re actually reaching out to find out what you can do then I don’t know what to tell you. But the other question what to do that goes above and beyond just getting involved in advance is going above and beyond. Searching out these educational opportunities is going above and beyond. Knowing those issues. In our county here in Oregon, the local Humane Society and dog shelter have created a workgroup. That’s actually where those documents that I showed you came out of, the Marion County Dog Services working group to try to get these cases as clean and well developed as possible. So it’s possible that your local law enforcement, maybe not right now, but soon once we get in the clear a little bit, will have the opportunity to really work on these issues. That’s what I would recommend. It’s trying to get these things solidified in advance so that you don’t come upon them at the moment in the heat of a case.
JCH: I did want to share a comment from the veterinarian in the UK shared again and what he said is online Veterinary training and Veterinary forensics is available as an e-learning program in the UK and of course has been adapted and is due to be released in the US later on this year. He indicates he actually helped write that program. So that’s probably something that we can end up finding if you do a Google search for that, but it’s an online Veterinary training and Veterinary forensics.
Audience Question: Are veterinary colleges discussing these topics with their students before they graduate and is there an effort to try to help inform the students on these kinds of issues?
Jake Kamins: I’m not a vet, I think I’ve made that clear. I believe that as a requirement for graduation and certification that you do have to take sort of a general class related to animal welfare and animal cruelty or potentially a seminar. I don’t really know but I’ve heard anecdotally from vets that that’s part of their initial veterinary training. The thing that I think that the topic doesn’t come up in very often is continuing education credits for vets. I think that you know that it’s sort of optional that it is my understanding to do training specifically on legal animal cruelty issues. Certainly, a lot of them take the opportunity to do those trainings and I always appreciate it when they do because that, as I said, I think, ad nauseam here, really helps the cases develop better. I don’t think you know, they’re learning modern veterinary science. It’s a complicated discipline. So I do not begrudge them that they spend their limited education time learning how to best care for animals.
JCH: It does sound like there are maybe some elective classes that students can take maybe just a couple of credit hours.
Audience Question: Have you had success working with veterinarians on faculty at a vet school for necropsy or exam and witness testimony?
Jake Kamins: I’ve never been an instructor for vets. My work with vets has come through sort of general training opportunities, which I’ve taken as often as I can and then actually through the casework which is, you know, not the ideal place to be teaching people what like in the middle of the case. I’ve done some limited training of veterinarians through their practices and also those who have been working in agencies like the Oregon Humane Society or other local humane societies throughout the state. I have only really talked to vets relative to necropsy when it’s been part of the case that I’ve been working on. It’s you know, it’s a fascinating and frankly kind of gross procedure that I really only want to stress with veterinarians that they do it the way that they’re trained to do it and they document it along the way. That’s the important sort of take-home that I give them about necropsy and for any forensic work, frankly. That they do it to the best of their abilities and they do it in the same way that they would do it for any patient coming through the door and that they make sure that it’s documented.
JCH: I did also want to share that Emily shared that the Animal Legal Defense Fund can help train veterinarians on animal cruelty cases and in fact, help connect them with local law enforcement in their community. So again, that’s the animal legal defense fund so that that’s an amazing resource offer.
Jake Kamins: Yeah, thank you, Emily.
Audience Question: Is there any unique witness preparation that you tend to do with a veterinarian?
Jake Kamins: Yeah, well, it’s unique in the sense that I a lot of times am being prepared by that witness as much as they are being prepared by me because like I said, I don’t have the veterinary training and experience in my background. So a lot of times and I find this happens less and less as I go on but I need to ask questions about what did you mean when you put this in your report? What is this that you’re describing in your report? What do these numbers mean? And how would you expect this to be different in an animal that was not abused or neglected? Generally speaking with this preparation for prosecuting attorneys is very much about telling people what to expect in court and I did a webinar recently for Justice Clearinghouse that talks a lot about what to expect when you’re going into court on an animal cruelty case and just preparing them for how the testimony goes. As a prosecutor. it’s very important that I am not trying to particularly shape my witnesses’ testimony. I am simply trying to make sure that they understand what the rules are and that they understand that their most important obligation is, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and let me worry about the rest of it. So I would say that it’s different when I’m talking to a veterinarian in that they are going to be in some ways educating me. But other than that, I’m telling them the same thing I tell every witness which is when you get up there, it’s absolutely vital that you follow the rules, tell the truth, and answer the questions as they are asked and don’t lose your cool.
Audience Question: In the same way that it’s critical to have expert veterinarians, the availability of prosecutors who are experts in handling animal abuse and neglect cases are critical to a successful prosecution. As I understand it, your position is somewhat unique. Can you talk briefly about how your position is created or should this be the subject of a separate webinar?
Jake Kamins: Well, it might be a subject of a separate webinar. I will cover it briefly here. My position was created in 2013 by the joint project at the animal legal defense fund which was mentioned by Emily and the Oregon District Attorneys’ Association with the special commitment from the Benton County District Attorney’s office to house the position for the benefit of the district attorneys in Oregon. Like I said at the time it was unique and has since caught on in other states. Even where there aren’t Statewide special prosecutors for animal cruelty offices, very often, district attorney offices on a county-by-county level will have somebody in the office who is specialized in these cases. Somebody who handled all these cases as they come through the door and makes sure that they are up on the current legal standards and have some understanding about how these cases are different from other types of cases. So, you know, I encourage states to look into this model. I think it’s good – it’s worked very well for Oregon especially related to training and casework and lessening the burden on Local District Attorney’s offices.
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