Man’s Best Friend? New York’s Antiquated Approach to Animal Cruelty Laws

By: Kelly Maloney, Albany Government Law Review

Studies show that many health benefits are derived from relationships between companion animals and their owners.[1] Animals have been shown “to improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, and facilitate social interactions among people who to choose to have pets.”[2] Moreover, service dogs are commonly used as a resource in assisting children suffering from cancer and military veterans who have suffered stress from battle, helping them to rehabilitate both mentally and physically.[3]   Many police departments across the nation employ dogs as an instrumental part of their organizations through the use of K-9 units.[4] It is evident by these examples, and many more that go unnamed, that our society gives great responsibility and praise to animals. So, why are our laws so unwilling to protect them in the same way that they are used to protect people?

In New York, the most horrific crime of animal cruelty is punishable by a maximum sentence of merely two years.[5] Under New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law, of which the laws protecting animals regrettably fall under:

A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty. “[A]ggravated cruelty” shall mean conduct which: (i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner.

. . . .

Aggravated cruelty to animals is a felony. . . . [A]ny term of imprisonment imposed for violation of this section shall be a definite sentence, which may not exceed two years.[6]

Conversely, a similar crime committed to a human being carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.[7] Under New York’s Penal Law,

[a] person is guilty of murder in the first degree when . . . [w]ith intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; and . . . the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim’s death. “[T]orture” means the intentional and depraved infliction of extreme physical pain . . . . Murder in the first degree is a class A-I felony.[8]

A class A-I felony carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment without parole or a minimum of twenty to twenty-five years and a maximum of life imprisonment.[9] Seemingly identical crimes carry drastically different sentences.[10]   However, both crimes equally, and horrifically, deprive living, breathing species of a chance at life. Both crimes contain the similar requisite intent to commit extreme physical pain or torture in a depraved manner.[11] Yet, the sentences associated with laws punishing animal cruelty in New York State fall far below a standard of punishment that is appropriate for such acts of cruelty. New York’s animal cruelty laws should be more closely aligned with sentences punishing similar acts committed upon human beings.

Animal cruelty is far too prevalent in our society. In People v. Brodsky, a Montgomery County man was convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals when “he savagely killed three cats belonging to his sister by the use of an axe.”[12] Brodsky was serving a five-year term of probation for an attempted burglary in the third degree conviction at the time of the crime.[13] He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of two years for aggravated cruelty to animals and one to four years for attempted burglary in the third degree, the crime underlying the probation period.[14] Brodsky was sentenced to possibly twice the term of imprisonment for the burglary charge than for the vicious murder of three helpless animals. Under New York State’s Penal Law, “[a] person is guilty of burglary in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.”[15] It seems unjust that New York law takes the entering of building with the intent to commit a crime therein, but failure to do so, more seriously that the successful and vicious murder of numerous innocent creatures.

This disconnect is not only prevalent in New York State. In Massachusetts, the precious pit-bull pup dubbed “Puppy Doe” by Boston media was found tortured and left to die in a Quincy, Massachusetts park this summer.[16] She was found beaten, broken boned, stabbed in the eye, burned, with her limbs pulled from her joints, and with her tongue mutilated into a serpent-like fork.[17] The veterinarian who worked on “Puppy Doe’s” case stated that it was “the worst case of animal abuse” that she had ever seen, indicating that the puppy was a “rack of broken bones.”[18] It was found that the puppy’s injuries were in several different stages of healing at the time the she was found, indicating that the torture took place over an extended period of time.[19] By the time that “Puppy Doe” was rescued, it was too late to save her and the humane society was forced to humanely euthanize her.[20]

Radoslaw Czerkawski, the suspect in the “Puppy Doe” case was indicted on twelve counts of animal cruelty and one count of misleading police; he was held without bail, at the request of his own attorney.[21] “The [twelve] counts of animal cruelty include starvation, willful abandonment, right eye stab wound, two deep nose injuries, cut to the tongue, multiple fractures to the head and spine, fractured ribs, front and back leg injuries, and burn wounds.”[22] Each of the twelve counts of animal cruelty carry up to five years imprisonment while the misleading police charge carries up to ten years imprisonment.[23] Again, while the Massachusetts Penal Law allows for a slightly longer sentence for animal cruelty as we do in New York State, the sentence for misleading the police is still twice the length of the sentence for torturing, mutilating, starving, and murdering an innocent puppy in indescribable ways.[24]

Many of the laws protecting animals were drafted decades ago[25] and contain language and ideology that is far behind our time. Animals are no longer seen as a possession but instead have transformed into trusted friends and members of our families. It is no longer acceptable to allow these innocent creatures to go under protected by the law. Instead, the laws governing crimes against animals should be expanded, and amended, to fall under New York’s Penal Law. Accordingly, animal cruelty laws should be strengthened to ensure adequate protection for animals and those offenses should be classified in order to allow for strict punishment under the law. Reclassifying animal cruelty laws would allow offenders to be held to a greater degree of accountability by enabling harsher sentences that are more consistent with those that are currently employed to punish crimes committed upon human beings, as well as, property.

While I stand firm in my stance that animal cruelty laws should be reassessed and deemed as more serious crimes with lengthier sentences, more consisted with those that would be enforced if similar crimes were committed upon human beings, I recognize that many people may not agree. However, most people would agree that society—our human society that is—should be protected from criminals who choose to reoffend. Both of the defendants in the cases described above had a criminal past before they committed their respective acts of cruelty on animals. Nicholas Brodsky was serving a five-year term of probation on an attempted burglary charge at the time that he savagely killed three cats.[26] Radoslaw Czerkawski allegedly moved across the United State’s deceiving people all along the way, including conning a Massachusetts priest, stealing from various church dioceses, and other instances of fraud.[27] It is not uncommon for animal abusers to partake in other forms of illegal activity. If our lawmakers are unwilling to protect our animals equally to the way that they protect people, they should, at a bare minimum, be required by law to protect the future human victims of those criminals who commit horrific acts of violence against animals. The best way to protect our society as a whole, both people and animals, is to take animal cruelty more seriously and mandate harsher sentencing.

[1] Pets Are Wonderful Support, The Health Benefits of Companion Animals http://www.pawssf.org/document.doc?id=15 (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Wags4Patriots: Service Dogs for Service Members, American Humane Ass’n, http://www.americanhumane.org/interaction/programs/military/wags4patriots.html (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[4] See, e.g., Eden Consulting Group, Police Dog Home Page, http://www.policek9.com (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[5] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney 1999).

[6] Id. (emphasis added).

[7] Barry Kamins, Graybook: N. Y. Crim. Stat. & Rules SG-5 (LexisNexis 2013 Edition).

[8] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney 2013) (emphasis added).

[9] Kamins, supra note 7.

[10] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney); N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney); Kamins, supra note 7.

[11] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney); N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney).

[12] People v. Brodsky, 16 A.D.3d 843, 843 (2005).

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 844.

[15] N.Y. Penal Law § 140.20 (McKinney 2014).

[16] Puppy Doe: Tortured and Murdered, Young Puppy’s Death is a Call for Justice, Examiner.com, (Sept. 25, 2013, 3:15 PM), http://www.examiner.com/article/puppy-doe-tortured-and-murdered-young-puppy-s-death-is-a-call-for-justice [hereinafter Examiner.com].

[17] Justice For Puppy Doe, Change.org, http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-puppy-doe-tell-craigslist-to-help-stop-violence-against-pets (last visited Jan. 31, 2014); Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[18] Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[19] Radoslaw Czerkawski To Be Held on No Bail; Puppy Doe Will See Justice, Examiner.com, (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.examiner.com/article/radoslaw-czerkawski-to-be-held-on-no-bail-puppy-doe-will-see-justice [hereinafter Puppy Doe Will See Justice].

[20] Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[21] Puppy Doe Will See Justice, supra note 19.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] See generally Nassau DA Says Animal Crimes Bill ‘Stalled’ in State Legislature, Examiner.com (Apr. 7, 2014, 3:03 PM), http://www.examiner.com/article/nassau-da-says-animal-crimes-bill-stalled-state-legislature (noting that New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law dates back to the mid-nineteenth century).

[26] People v. Brodsky, 16 A.D.3d 843, 843 (2005).

[27] Katheleen Conti & Emily Sweeney, Puppy Doe Suspect Has Murky Past, Boston Globe (Nov. 7, 2013), http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2013/11/07/puppy-doe-suspect-past-shrouded-mystery/sUTYeYzGcXK5SHUmAlXJKK/story.html.

The Pro Bono Requirement in New York: How the New York Courts Have Pushed for an Increase in Legal Services to the Poor

By: Nicholas Martin, Albany Government Law Review

On September 14, 2012, the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Jonathan Lippman, added a new mandatory rule for applicants to the New York State bar.[1] This new requirement states that each bar applicant in the State of New York must complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono services prior to admission.[2] The relevant portion of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations is as follows:

(a) Fifty-hour pro bono requirement. Every applicant admitted to the New York State bar on or after January 1, 2015, other than applicants for admission without examination pursuant to section 520.10 of this Part, shall complete at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service prior to filing an application for admission with the appropriate Appellate Division department of the Supreme Court.[3]

According to the new rule, pro bono service is defined as work performed for people of limited means, not-for-profit organizations, and others—meaning individuals, groups, or organizations—that seek to “promote access to justice.”[4]

This mandate for applicants to the New York bar is the first of its kind in the nation.[5] No other state therefore has this mandate; other states merely encourage pro bono work.[6] However, it is important to note that California’s State Bar is preparing a similar pro bono requirement of fifty completed hours for bar applicants, and the New Jersey Supreme Court has made recommendations for a fifty–hour mandate as well.[7] As stated in the regulation above, the requirement will apply to every applicant to the New York bar beginning on January 1, 2015.[8]

Surprisingly, many future law students are not opposed to this fifty-hour mandate.[9] According to a Kaplan survey taken in June of 2013, in which 750 pre-law students partook, approximately sixty–eight percent of these students believed that a requirement for bar applicants to complete a set number of hours for pro bono work prior to admittance was a good idea.[10] Regardless of the reaction from future New York State bar applicants, it appears that the New York Courts have made a significant push for an expansion of legal services rendered to the poor as well as other non-profit organizations.[11]

The push towards increased pro bono work in the State of New York does not only affect bar applicants, but practicing attorneys as well. Beginning on May 1, 2013, the New York Courts increased the recommended hours of pro bono legal services to the poor from twenty to fifty hours.[12] According to Rule 6.1 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct:

Lawyers are strongly encouraged to provide pro bono legal services to benefit poor persons.

(a) Every lawyer should aspire to:

(1) provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year to  poor persons; and

(2) contribute financially to organizations that provide legal services each year to poor persons.[13]

It is important to note that, for practicing attorneys in the State of New York, it is only strongly encouraged to provide fifty hours of pro bono legal services per year; that is, lawyers in this state are not mandated to provide any legal services to the poor.[14] Regardless, it seems evident that the New York Court of Appeals is pushing toward an increase in pro bono services from practicing attorneys with this increase in recommended annual hours.

The change made to Rule 6.1 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct is not the only New York statute that has had an impact on licensed attorneys in the State of New York. Also taking effect on May 1, 2013, a new reporting requirement was added to section 118.1 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator.[15] Section 118.1(e)(14) deals with reporting requirements that lawyers must put in their biennial registration forms.[16]

According to the regulation:

Section 118.1 Filing Requirement

(e) The registration statement shall be on a form provided by the Chief Administrator and shall include the following information, attested to by affirmation:

(14)(a) voluntary unpaid pro bono services and (b) voluntary financial contributions made to organizations primarily or substantially engaged in the provision of legal services to the underserved and to the poor during the previous biennial registration period.[17]

This is a mandatory reporting requirement to all practicing attorneys in New York.[18] All lawyers of the state must report—every two years—the number of hours voluntarily spent providing unpaid legal services to poor clients, and the amount of voluntary financial contributions made to organizations that provide legal services to the poor.[19]

The New York Court of Appeals passed the above laws—the amendment to Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the new pro bono reporting requirement—concurrently, with the clear intention of increasing the amount legal services rendered from practicing attorneys to the poor and needy.[20] Though the Court may have had good intentions in passing these amendments, the idea of imposing a mandatory biennial report disclosing the number of hours spent rendering legal services to the indigent was not as popular as the Court may have expected. This mandatory reporting requirement has been met with opposition from various legal authorities in the State, including members of the New York State Bar Association, as well as—ironically—various pro bono organizations.

In a letter dated June 26, 2013, the President of the New York State Bar Association, David M. Schraver, wrote a letter to Chief Judge Lippman in response to the new amendments passed to the pro bono laws. He begins his letter referencing how the New York State Bar Association’s members take seriously their part in providing legal services to the poor, as well as providing voluntary financial contributions to non-profit organizations that provide more direct services to the impoverished.[21] However, Schraver writes, the Association is opposed to the recent reporting requirement amendment to section 118 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations.[22] One reason for this opposition deals with privacy issues. Schraver writes “[l]awyers’ personal pro bono services and contributions will have to be reported and will be available to any member of the public and the media. Our members regard such reporting and disclosure as an invasion of privacy.”[23] Another factor that Schraver writes about deals with the coercive nature of this mandatory biennial reporting requirement, stating that lawyers should choose to provide pro bono legal services because they want to assist the needy—not because they feel pressured to report hours on their reports.[24] Schraver lists a few other reasons why the bar association is against this mandatory reporting requirement, but these arguments are equally unpersuasive. Regardless, though, the mandatory biennial reporting requirement has been met with opposition from the New York State Bar Association.[25]

Quite surprisingly, the amendment creating the mandatory biennial reporting requirement has been met with opposition from pro bono groups as well, but for a different reason. A letter written by Brenna K. DeVaney, Chair of the Committee of Pro Bono and Legal Services, to Judge Lippman, stated that the reporting standard provided in the New York Code, Rules and Regulations is inconsistent with the description of pro bono legal services as provided in Rule 6.1 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.[26] As stated above, Rule 6.1 defined pro bono work as legal services rendered to the poor and non-profit organizations,[27] whereas the reporting requirement excludes work done for non-profits, mandating reports only for legal services rendered for the poor and financial contributions made to organizations dealing that render services to the poor.[28] The Committee argues that, because the reporting requirement provides only for financial contributions made to non-profit organizations rather than legal services rendered, this may lead to a decrease in pro bono work to these non-profit organizations, which, ironically, may in turn end up hurting the very people that pro bono is intended to help—the poor.[29] The Association of Pro Bono Counsel also has a similar complaint, stating that, while there is a strong support for the mandatory reporting requirement, the services eligible to be reported are too narrow.[30] “This definition appears to exclude the substantial amount of pro bono legal service that our attorneys provide to the many nonprofits serving this community, in addition to other work vital to low income New Yorkers.”[31] Though there are some complaints as to the exact definition of pro bono work that is eligible for reporting, the various pro bono associations overall believe this mandatory reporting requirement is a good idea and a step in the right direction for the State of New York.

The New York Court of Appeals has made some significant changes to the pro bono requirements in the state, whether it is for bar applicants or practicing attorneys. The statewide fifty-hour mandate for free legal services rendered by future bar applicants is the first of its kind in the United States, with other states beginning to consider adopting similar provisions. The change made to Rule 6.1 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct that strongly encourages attorneys to provide fifty hours of pro bono work a year, coupled with the mandatory biennial reporting requirement mandating lawyers to disclose the number of hours spent rendering legal services to the indigent, marks a substantial change in responsibility for practicing attorneys in the state.[32] Irrespective of the praise or criticism toward these changes, the New York Courts have clearly made a significant push for increased pro bono work to the poor that affects all attorneys and aspiring attorneys in New York State. 

 

[1] State of New York, Court of Appeals, In the Matter of the Amendment of the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, Sept. 14, 2012, available at http://www.courts.state.ny.us/attorneys/probono/Rule520_16.pdf; 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 520.16 (2008).

[2] 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 520.16 (2008).

[3] Id.

[4] Id. § 520.16(b).

[5] See, e.g., James Podgers, New York’s New Rule Requires Bar Applicants to Perform 50 Hours of Pro Bono, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 1, 2013, 4:10 AM CDT), http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/new_yorks_new_rule_requires_bar_applicants_to_perform_50_hours_of_pro_bono/; Karen Sloan, Prospective Students Back Pro Bono Requirement, 250 N.Y. L. J. (Aug. 1, 2013), http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202613285016?slreturn=20140030104157.

[6] Podgers, supra note 5.

[7] Sloan, supra note 5.

[8] Id.; Podgers, supra note 5.

[9] Sloan, supra note 5.

[10] Id.

[11] See N.Y. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 6.1 (2013).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 118.1(e)(14).

[16] See id.

[17] Id.

[18] See 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. §§ 118.1(a), (b).

[19] Id.; 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 118.1(e)(14).

[20] See id.

[21] Letter from David M. Schraver, President, N.Y. State Bar Ass’n, to Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of N.Y. (June 26, 2013).

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] New President Pledges To Preserve What’s Best About The State Bar – And Move it Forward, The Metropolitan Corp. Counsel (Aug. 12, 2014, 1:19 PM), http://www.metrocorpcounsel.com/articles/29579/new-president-pledges-preserve-whats-best-about-state-bar-%E2%80%93-and-move-it-forward.

[26] Letter from Brenna K. DeVaney, Chair, Comm. of Pro Bono & Legal Services, to Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of N.Y. (May 24, 2013), available at http://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/20072511-LettertoJudgeLippmanonReportingProBonoHours.pdf.

[27] N.Y. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 6.1.

[28] 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 118(e)(14)(a).

[29] Letter from Brenna K. DeVaney, supra note 26.

[30] Letter from the Association of Pro Bono Counsel to Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of N.Y. (May 22, 2013), available at http://nylawyer.nylj.com/adgifs/decisions/061913apbco.pdf (last visited Aug. 25 9:25 PM).

[31] Id.

[32] Nora A. Jones, Pro Bono Spotlight: Central & Western New York Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel Members Discuss Legal Service Needs, N.Y. Daily Record (Mar. 11, 2014), http://nydailyrecord.com/blog/2014/03/11/pro-bono-spotlight-acc-chapter-members-discuss-legal-service-needs/.