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Animal Cruelty Cases in Georgia

Under Georgia law, Animal Cruelty occurs when a person causes physical pain, suffering, or death to an animal by “any unjustifiable act or omission.” It also covers the failure to provide an animal with sufficient food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation consistent with what a reasonable person would believe such an animal would require based on the animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition. Under this statute, therefore, affirmative acts taken with the intent to harm an animal are clearly covered, and so are negligent acts. 

There are certain things that the law does not cover. Under Georgia law, it is not animal cruelty to remove/dispose of pest animals that can be exterminated or removed from a business, residence or structure. It also does not cover certain industries and activities that are permitted by other Georgia laws, such as, for example, butchering animals, hunting, fishing, wildlife management, or scientific research. 

Self Defense in Animal Cruelty Cases

The law also provides an exception to the general law against animal cruelty in cases where a person reasonably believes that harming an animal is necessary in order to prevent death or serious injury either to the person himself/herself or to another person. There are some exceptions to the self defense provision, though.

For example, a person who is attempting to commit a crime, has already committed a crime, or is fleeing after committing a crime cannot use the self defense argument in a Georgia Animal Cruelty case. Similarly, a person who is trespassing on another person’s property cannot avail himself of the defense either. Even if a person is justified in harming an animal in self defense, the method used in self defense must be as humane as possible under the circumstances. A person who humanely injures an animal in self defense faces no civil or criminal liability.

What is the possible penalty for a Georgia Animal Cruelty conviction?

Animal Cruelty is a misdemeanor in Georgia, provided it is a person’s first offense and he or she is not being charged with Aggravated Animal Cruelty, which is discussed in more detail below). A second or subsequent conviction for Animal Cruelty is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. In determining whether an offense is a person’s first or later offense, Georgia includes Animal-Cruelty-related convictions from other states, as well as juvenile offenses. This makes Animal Cruelty different from most offenses, as typically juvenile offenses are not considered in later charging decisions. 

Read more about Georgia Juvenile Court cases here.

What is Aggravated Animal Cruelty?

Georgia law states that a person commits Aggravated Animal Cruelty when he or she:

  • Maliciously causes the death of an animal;
  • Maliciously causes physical harm to an animal by depriving it of a part of its body, by rendering a part of such animal's body useless, or by seriously disfiguring such animal's body;
  • Maliciously tortures an animal by the infliction of severe or prolonged physical pain;
  • Maliciously gives poison to an animal, or exposes an animal to any poisonous substance, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal; or
  • Maliciously fails to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal's size, species, breed, age, and physical condition to the extent that the death of such animal results or a member of its body is rendered useless or is seriously disfigured.

You will notice that all of these types of Aggravated Animal Cruelty include the word “maliciously.” According to Georgia law, “malice” means one of two things: that a person acted with an actual intent to cause the harm that resulted from the act, or that he or she committed an intentional act with an awareness that harm may result from the act. 

What is the possible penalty for Georgia Aggravated Animal Cruelty conviction?

Aggravated Animal Cruelty is a felony offense. As such, it carries a minimum penalty of one year of imprisonment. In total, the possible penalty for a first conviction is:

  • One to five (1 to 5) years imprisonment, and/or
  • A fine of up to $15,000.

For a second or subsequent conviction, the possible penalty is:

  • One to 10 (1 to 10) years imprisonment, and/or
  • A fine of up to $100,000.

Prior to sentencing for Animal Cruelty or Aggravated Animal Cruelty in Georgia, a Georgia judge may order a person to undergo a psychological evaluation and may consider the entire criminal record of the offender.

Why Hire an Attorney for a Georgia Animal Cruelty or Aggravated Animal Cruelty charge?

Even a misdemeanor Animal Cruelty conviction is potentially life-altering, and a felony Aggravated Animal Cruelty charge even more so. Both carries with them the risk of jail time and hefty fines, and can result in damage to your reputation. You need an attorney who won't just tell you to plead your case out, even if you are charged with a misdemeanor. Instead, you need an attorney who understands that any criminal case is potentially life-changing, and who will listen to your side of the story and make sure the judge and jury hear it as well. If you have been charged with Animal Cruelty or Aggravated Animal Cruelty, contact me today.

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Kevin Fisher

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