Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Lawyers for Animals? Weird Maybe, But Nothing New

with 2 comments

In general, I try to keep this blog on-topic, but if my dear readers will permit a brief digression away from prison policy, I couldn’t resist posting about this Wall Street Journal article on a pending Swiss referendum to provide for court-appointed lawyers for animals. The article portrays this development as a pretty wacky idea and I’m sure that’s how it will be spun in the mainstream media. I can only imagine what Fox News will make of this, considering the hubbub in recent days about lawyers who represent people. And, hey, I don’t necessarily have a strong view on whether animals should have legal representation; maybe it is wacky.

However, putting on my historian’s hat, I never want to miss an opportunity to note that the notion of involving animals in the human court system is not a 21st century invention of lefty animal rights vegetarians. Rather, it has a long pedigree in the annals of both Anglo and Continental law. Animals and even insects used to be routinely tried for murder, sued for ruining crops, and more. (See this Cabinet Magazine article.) Many representative cases are delightfully described in the 1906 classic, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, now conveniently available via Google Books. The New York Times Magazine had an article a few years ago that touched on this topic:

On Sept. 5, 1379, a trio of French pigs, agitated by the squealing of a piglet, bowled over their keeper’s son, who died shortly thereafter of the injuries. As E. P. Evans recounts in his 1906 monograph, “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” “the three sows, after due process of law, were condemned to death” along with several other pigs who had “hastened to the scene of the murder and by their cries and aggressive actions showed that they approved of the assault.” (The accomplices were later pardoned.)


Written by sara

March 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

2 Responses

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  1. Excellent blog!
    As you point out, animals show up not only as victims but also as offenders. In fact, there are lots of interesting connections between animal (and notably dog) criminal law and human criminal law (including provisions on mens rea, justification, self-defense, other-defense, vicarious liability, superior orders, attempt, recidivism, and, of course, dangerousness). These tend to attract little judicial attention…
    An exception, and one that brings this back to prison law, is the case of Huntington v. Mazzone, 841 N.Y.S.2d 831 (2007). There the court considers (and rejects) the argument that it should (and has the power to) substitute “banishment” for “humane (!) euthanasia” as punishment for a “dangerous dog.” The court, its research having indicated “no relevant reported New York precedent involving animal banishment” (surprise!), instead “construct[s its] decision from New York’s human related banishment case law.” The NY criminal code doesn’t authorize banishment for humans, ergo, it doesn’t authorize it for dogs either.
    And, grabbed from today’s (or at least yesterday’s) headlines, don’t forget Tilly the Killer Whale (who has been said to be way too smart to NOT have intentionally grabbed the trainer and have acted on impulse) and, of course, Travis the Chimp (who mauled his owner’s friend and threatened the responding police officer, who shot him dead, and now can’t collect workers’ comp because that doesn’t cover shooting animal suspects).


    March 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

  2. Thanks for the comment and cites! I will have to take a look at the New York case.


    March 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

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