Scutari, Singleton Bill to Provide Advocate in Criminal Cases Concerning the Welfare of Animals Passes Senate

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari and Senator Troy Singleton, which would authorize the appointment of an advocate in court during certain criminal cases concerning the welfare of an animal, passed the Senate today.

“It is an unfortunate reality that animal abusers typically do not receive a sentence reflecting the severity of their crime,” said Senator Scutari (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “These are living, breathing creatures and anyone that causes harm to an animal shouldn’t be treated lightly. Animals that have been harmed deserve to have an advocate in their corner, providing a voice for them in the courtroom.”

Under the bill, S-3322, during a criminal court proceeding for animal cruelty, dog fighting, or any proceeding regarding the welfare or custody of an animal, the court could order an advocate to be appointed to represent the best interests of, and seek justice for, an animal.

“Animal abuse is one of the most disturbing crimes and our criminal justice system needs to revise its approach to these cases,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “This legislation will ensure animal abusers receive sentencing that adequately fits their crimes while delivering the message that animal abuse will not be treated lightly.”

The bill would authorize the court to select an advocate from a list provided to the court by the Administrative Director of the Courts. This list would contain the names of attorneys with knowledge of animal issues and the legal system and a list of law schools that have students with an interest in animal issues and the legal system. Such attorneys and law students would be eligible to serve on a volunteer basis.

The bill would require the advocate to have the following duties: monitor the case; attend hearings; share with attorneys for the state and defendant any information new to the case or prepared by the advocate; have access to and review all relevant records relating to the condition of the animal and the defendant’s actions; and present information or recommendations to the court that relate to the best interests of, and justice for, the animal, including placement of the animal.

The bill is inspired by Connecticut’s “Desmond’s Law,” which went into effect in 2016.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 37-0.

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