An Assembly panel on Thursday approved a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s animal welfare laws sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Joseph Lagana, Carmelo G. Garcia, Angelica Jimenez and Joseph Cryan, a move designed to crack down on animal fighting and stiffen fines and penalties for violators.
Originally proposed as four separate bills (A-2422-2547-3037-3596), the measures were merged together during today’s committee hearing to form one comprehensive bill (A-3037) to crack down on both organizers and spectators of animal fighting, a barbaric practice that gained national attention after the Michael Vick case.
“This bill is designed to send a clear message that the inhumane practice of animal fighting will not be tolerated in New Jersey,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “These changes will give prosecutors the tools they need to crack down on both animal fighting organizers and the spectators that help to keep this horrific practice alive.”
“High profile cases have shown us that animal fighting may be more common than we thought,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The bottom line is it is cruel and inhumane and cannot be tolerated.”
“These changes will send a much stronger message that inflicting pain on another living thing is neither sport nor entertainment. It’s criminal and should be treated as such,” said Garcia (D-Hudson).
“Anyone who willingly subjects animals to the pain and emotional distress inflicted on them during involuntary fighting should have the full weight of the law thrown at them,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “These changes will ensure just that.”
“This is a barbaric and cruel practice that has no place in modern society. Our laws should reflect our evolution on this antiquated notion of entertainment,” said Cryan (D-Union).
To combat the offense, the bill would:
1) revise the animal cruelty statutes concerning animal fighting by increasing the level of crime for certain offenses and establishing new offenses; and
2) establish two new crimes under the State Criminal Code of animal fighting and leader of an animal fighting network. The latter crime would also be added to the list of offenses considered “racketeering activity” under New Jersey’s anti-racketeering law (RICO).
Under the State Criminal Code, a person would be guilty of animal fighting if the individual knowingly:
1) keeps, uses, or is connected with or interested in the management of, or receives money for the admission of a person to, a place kept or used for the purpose of fighting or baiting an animal;
2) owns, possesses, keeps, trains, promotes, purchases, breeds or sells an animal for the purpose of fighting or baiting that animal;
3) for amusement or gain, causes, allows, or permits the fighting or baiting of an animal;
4) permits or suffers a place owned or controlled by that person to be used for the purpose of fighting or baiting an animal;
5) is present and witnesses, pays admission to, encourages or assists in the fighting or baiting of an animal; or
6) gambles on the outcome of a fight involving an animal.
Animal fighting under the State Criminal Code would continue to be a crime of the third degree, which is typically punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
A person would be guilty of the crime of leader of an animal fighting network if the person conspires with others in a scheme or course of conduct to unlawfully engage in animal fighting as an organizer, supervisor, financier or manager of at least one other person.
This crime would be a crime of the second degree, which is typically punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. This crime would also be added to the list of offenses considered “racketeering activity” under RICO, which could trigger additional criminal penalties if a person is found to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity.
The court would also have the authority to order the seizure and forfeiture of any animals used for fighting or baiting, and may upon request of the prosecutor or on its own motion, order any convicted person to forfeit possession of: (1) any other animals in the person’s custody or possession; and (2) any other property involved in or related to the criminal act.
Additionally, the court could prohibit any such person from having future possession or custody of any animal for any period of time the court deems reasonable, including a permanent prohibition. The bill also includes a non-merger provision, meaning that a conviction for such a crime could not be merged with the conviction for any other offense.
Lastly, while several animal fighting offenses remain crimes of the third degree, committing the following offenses purposely or knowingly would be elevated to crimes of the second degree:
1) organizing a fight between animals or the gambling on the outcome of the animal fight;
2) collecting or holding the bets for such gambling on the outcome of an animal fight;
3) as the owner or the person in possession of the real property, providing or allowing to be used, for personal amusement or monetary gain, a place for the purpose of baiting animals, fighting between animals, holding organized animal fights, or training animals for fighting;
4) owning, possessing, keeping training, promoting, purchasing, breeding, or selling any animal for the purpose of fighting between animals or baiting animals to engage in fighting;
5) importing or exporting animals into or out of the state for the purpose of animal fighting;
6) stealing an animal for the purpose of using that animal in animal fighting; or
7) conspiring to organize, participate in, or train animals for the purpose of animal fighting.
Any assets or property used in the aforementioned activities shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture with the proceeds dedicated to training animal control officers and humane law enforcement officers, and to animal health, care, and welfare. Each animal being used in a fight, bred, trained, or used for fighting, baited, or attacked by a baited animal in violation of this section shall constitute a separate offense.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.