State's Attorney's Office
Because animal cruelty cases are not the norm, it is important to establish contact with the State’s Attorney’s (SA’s) office early and maintain it throughout a case.
There are several elements the SA’s office considers in determining whether to prosecute an animal cruelty case: the strength of the evidence, the admissibility of the evidence, the background and history of the offender, the experience and training of the arresting officer, and the recommendations of the arresting officer.
To ensure that you are presenting a good case, inform the appropriate State’s Attorney (SA) or Deputy State’s Attorney (DSA) about the case as soon as possible. In addition, make your initial investigation solid; it is the foundation upon which the rest of the case is built. (See Appendix IV, Presenting Your Case to the Prosecutor).
What to do
- If you are involved in a complicated case, and desire to apply for a search warrant, ask a DSA to review your application for the search warrant to ensure that it is in accordance with the United States and Vermont State Constitutions.
- Always contact the SA’s office and your local police department on serious and complicated cases. You and the police officer will work closely in putting together the case, to include a search warrant, if necessary.
- Make the SA’s office aware of the condition of the animals as soon as possible after they are seized. Ensure that the DSA assigned to the case has copies of all necessary paperwork (Affidavit, Statements, etc.), and copies of all photographs and video tapes.
- After presenting your paperwork to the SA’s office and police department, continue working with them to obtain whatever additional evidence they request.
- Decisions as to how the case will be handled will be made by the SA’s office, generally with input from law enforcement and the humane organization involved.
If the SA's office seems to lack interest in your case, find out why, if possible. Perhaps past cases they received were not well documented, the evidence was poor, and the case was not win-able. If your case is well prepared, and you are supportive and enthusiastic about its prosecution, the response may be different.
IMPORTANT - Occasionally, the SA’s office and/or probation department send inquiries to the arresting officer and/or appropriate humane officer asking for opinions as to what should be done with regard to sentencing. Respond to them, especially for cases in local district courts. Your response is important to the final outcome of the case. If you fail to respond, your input cannot get factored into the sentence.
Whether the case ends in a plea bargain or a conviction after trial, ask the DSA to recommend that as part of the sentencing, the person is instructed to:
- surrender the animals to the local humane organization (See Title 13, Sections 353 (b) 1 and 353 (c))
- pay restitution for the cost of care to all humane organizations involved in the case (See Title 13, Section 353 (b) 2)
The court may also require a convicted defendant to:
- forfeit any future rights to own, possess, or care for animals (See Title 13, Section 353 (b) 3)
- participate in available animal cruelty prevention programs, educational programs, or both, or obtain psychological counselling (See Title 13, Section 353 (b) 4 and Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Making the Connection: What Humane Investigators Need to Know")
- permit periodic unannounced visits for a period of up to one year by a humane officer (See Title 13, Section 353 (b) 5)
Regardless of the number of animals seized, it is important that the case be resolved as quickly as possible. It is a great burden for local shelters to house animals if cases drag on for months. The quality of your evidence and your witnesses may facilitate a speedy resolution to the case.
In Vermont, the DSA may file what is called a Motion for Forfeiture (see example in Appendix III, Forms and Supplies List) with its local district court in conjunction with filing its criminal charges (see also Section 354 (d) to (h)). The court schedules the matter for a speedy hearing (normally within 21 days), and the state has the burden of establishing by "clear and convincing" evidence that the animal was subjected to cruelty. This is important because the animal(s) may be forfeited and thus freed up for adoption and permanency, even before the case is prosecuted criminally. You should contact the DSA and request that he/she file this motion once the case is sent to his/her office.