Animal DNA as Forensic Evidence in Criminal Prosecution

Kendall Shea

kendallAccording to CBS News, the City of New York is expanding the use of forensic animal evidence, such as DNA samples, to solve more crimes against both animals and people.  With the help of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and their mobile evidence lab, investigators are using cutting-edge technology to solve crimes against animals, but prosecutors have commented that such tests can link a suspect to crimes against people as well.

Forensic animal evidence has been used in criminal prosecution in the United States for some time.  The controversial conviction in the murder of an Illinois woman, Karyn Hearn Slover, relied on only circumstantial evidence.  Karyn Slover went missing in September 1996.  In 2002, Karyn’s ex-husband, Michael Slover, Jr., and his parents Michael and Jeannette Slover were convicted of her murder.  The prosecution advanced the theory that Michael Sr. and Jeannette feared Karyn would take her son, their grandchild, out of state following the divorce between Karyn and Michael Jr. and murdered her in order to gain custody of the child.  With no murder weapon recovered and no available witnesses, prosecutors developed a circumstantial case.  They used negative statements made by Slover family members about Karyn, psychiatric analysis of Karyn’s son (who they believe may have witnessed the murder), and matching environmental evidence, including dog hair discovered on duct tape used to seal garbage bags containing parts of Karyn’s body.  The dog hair matched that of Michael Sr. and Jeanette’s dog.  The Slovers’ case is currently being reviewed by the University of Illinois, Springfield Innocence Project. Continue reading

Schultz’s Law: Stepping Forward to the Wrong Beat

Anonymous

           Earlier this week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that imposes a mandatory five (5) year sentence without parole for killing a police dog. The introduction of this law brings with it a mix of cautious optimisim and trepidation.

Initially, it’s encouraging to see a law with force behind it for the protection of animals. As this blawg has noted, animals in the United States receive very little help from our laws. Under the new law, “those found guilty of killing a police dog or a dog engaged in a search and rescue operation would receive a mandatory minimum five-year prison term, with no eligibility for parole, and a $15,000 fine.” That’s a major change from previous New Jersey criminal law concerning animals; abuse, and abuse that leads to death, is a disorderly persons offense, a misdemeanor that is located in the agricultural subsection of the New Jersey Code. Now purposefully killing a dog is a third degree felony, and one that has a parole disqualifier, which is rare for third degree offenses. Maiming a dog, without killing, is a fourth degree felony.

But before animal rights advocates champion this law, we must step back and look at what is actually happening. This is being called “Schultz’s Law,” so named for a German Shepard police dog, Schultz, who was killed while pursuing a suspect. According to police allegations, when Schultz grabbed the arm of the suspect to apprehend him, the suspect purposefully flung Schultz into oncoming traffic. Schultz died from injuries sustained when a car hit him.  Continue reading

Buggery and Factory Farming

Rodell Green was just sentenced to three years imprisonment for having sex with a horse. Over at the Atlantic Blog, correspondent Wendy Kaminer asks the following “quick question“:

Can someone explain to me why it is a criminal offense to have sex with animals but entirely legal to kill and eat them?  Surely laws against bestiality don’t reflect concern about the rights of animals, (who would probably opt for sex over death.) I don’t mean to denigrate meat eating (I’m a carnivore;) I do mean to point out the absurdities of imprisoning people for “buggery.”

In a sense, Ms. Kaminer is right. It is simply inconsistent for the law to send someone to jail for three years for having sex with a horse while simultaneously allowing billions of animals to unnecessarily suffer as a result of factory farming.

Nevertheless, I believe that there is a way to explain this inconsistency. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s unclear whether the purpose of bestiality statutes is to protect animals from cruelty. As a matter of fact, I think that bestiality statutes have little to do with preventing animal suffering. Instead, it’s more likely that the purpose of bestiality statutes is to enforce a moral principle, namely: that it’s against natural law and morality for human beings to have sex with an animal.  This reading of bestiality statutes is supported by the history of laws criminalizing such conduct.

The first statute criminalizing bestiality in common law jurisdictions was England’s Buggery Act of 1533. The statute made engaging in anal sexual intercourse or having sex with an animal a crime punishable by hanging. These acts were criminalized because they were unnatural and against God’s will. After all, as Blackstone (in)famously asserted in his famous Commentaries, someone who engaged in these acts committed the “abominable and detestable crime against nature”. As a result, it seems fairly obvious that what inspired bestiality laws was the state’s desire to enforce a particular moral view.

Continue reading

Animal Advocates in Action: California Assemblyman Pedro Navas

I just got back from Buenos Aires where I had almost no internet access, so I hope start posting on a weekly basis from now on.

Today I want to praise California Assemblyman Pedro Navas (D-Santa Barbara) for introducing three animal cruelty related bills that were passed by both houses of the California legislature and now await the Governor’s signature.

Bill A.B.  241 caps the number of unsterilized dogs and cats that an individual or business can have for the purposes of breeding pets. Veterinarians and animal shelters are exempted from the law.

Bill A.B. 242 doubles the punishment imposed on spectators of dogfights.

Finally, Bill A.B. 243 prohibits certain individuals convicted of cruelty related crimes from owning or taking care of dogs.

Once again, California rises to the occasion. Much more needs to be done, but the Golden State is heading in the right direction. You can learn more about the bills here.

Luis Chiesa

Why is murdering a human being worse than wrongfully killing a nonhuman animal?

Killing an animal in violation of anti-cruelty statutes is universally punished less severely than murdering a human being. Is this practice morally justifiable? I believe it is. In order to understand why, we must transcend the “sentience argument”. Both animal welfare and animal rights advocates believe that the rights/interests of animals stem from the fact that they’re sentient beings. Animals should be protected from torture, for example, because they can feel pain. Given that causing pain is the paradigmatic instance of wrongful conduct, society should criminalize unjustifiably inflicting pain on animals.

The sentience argument cannot explain why killing a human being is prima facie more wrongful than killing a nonhuman animal. Since both human and nonhuman animals have the capacity to feel pain, it would seem that harming them is equally wrongful. What, then, accounts for the generalized intuition that murder is worse than wrongfully killing an animal? In my opinion, what typically entitles humans to more protection than nonhuman animals is that they possess morally relevant traits that animals lack – a capacity for self-consciousness and an acute awareness of the future.

These traits matter because beings that are self-aware and have a sense of the future are more prone to suffering than creatures lacking these features. Self-conscious beings, for example, fear death not only because of the possible pain that the process of dying might cause, but also because of the suffering that having advanced knowledge of one’s demise might cause (think of the suffering of a prisoner in death row who agonizes when he contemplates his future death). Furthermore, since self-conscious beings that are aware of the passage of time make plans for the future, killing them entails not only terminating their existence, but also taking from them the possibility to fulfill their plans and aspirations. Killing beings lacking these characteristics does not harm them in the same way. Given that they have no awareness of the future, they are not conscious of the significance of their death. Since they lack the ability to plan for tomorrow, they have no sense of the meaning of death or of what they lose by not waking up the next morning.

I acknowledge that some animal law advocates may object to my proposal because it might be interpreted to afford rights depending on the degree of similarity that exists between nonhuman creatures and human beings. In spite of this possible criticism, the view I propose here should not be rejected as speciesist because the distinctions drawn here are not grounded on the basis of the being belonging to a particular species, even if it is claimed that some species deserve more protection than others. Ultimately, the amount of legal protection is dependent on the being’s capacity for self-consciousness and awareness of the future, not its belonging to a particular species. The fact that human beings typically share those traits is beside the point, for what really matters is the traits, not the species.

Luis Chiesa