Cody Michael Carmack was arrested in 2011 and charged with extreme cruelty to animals after a puppy he allegedly threw against a bed frame in a fit of anger had to have a leg amputated. More than two years later, the case is still pending.
Two teen-agers were arrested in 2006 for allegedly stabbing and killing several snakes and stealing other reptiles from the Las Cruces Reptile
Rescue. They faced multiple charges, but prosecutors could not file criminal animal cruelty charges in the snakes' torture and deaths because current New Mexico law does not include reptiles.
SB 83, which awaits a hearing by the full Senate and House (companion bill HB 224) as the current legislative session winds down, makes cruelty to animals that results in "great bodily harm or death" to an animal a fourth-degree felony. It also defines "animals" as vertebrates (except
humans) and non-captive snakes, and adds further definitions to give prosecutors the tools they need to get more convictions.
SB 83 mandates psychological counseling for those convicted of extreme cruelty to animals. The link between cruelty to animals and violence to
humans is well established. Our communities are safer and better places to live when our laws support keeping animals safe from harm. This bill will further protect animals from abuse and will allow for more effective intervention against those whose harmful, criminal behavior often begins with animal cruelty.
In early 2013, the national Animal Legal Defense Fund published a report, based on a detailed comparative analysis of state statutes in 15 broad categories, saying New Mexico is one of the worst in the nation for animal protection laws.
We need to change that.
Under current state law, a person who "negligently" harms or kills an animal "mistreats, injures, kills without lawful justification or torments an animal or fails to provide necessary sustenance to an animal under that
person's custody or control" is subject to a misdemeanor charge. That means a mandatory court appearance, and if convicted, a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail, or both, although the typical sentence is much less than that.
It takes four negligence misdemeanor convictions for a person to be charged with fourth-degree felony animal cruelty, the lowest of the four levels of felony charges.
A person can kill, injure, torment or starve animals under their care four times before facing a penalty that carries any weight. A fourth-degree felony conviction carries a fine of $1,000 and/or a year in prison. People who "intentionally" mistreat, maim or kill an animal can face "extreme animal cruelty" charges, which is also a fourth-degree felony. Intentional cruelty is self-explanatory. Negligence is what results from a series of bad choices. Call it what you will; suffering by any name is still suffering.
The penalty for negligence should be a fourth-degree felony charge for first-time offenders, not the fourth conviction. The way to teach offenders to make different choices is to impose a penalty that will leave enough of a mark, if you will, to change the perpetrator's thought process.
It's time for New Mexico to do what's right and overhaul the laws that are supposed to protect our animals. Pass SB 83.
The Las Cruces Sun-News