A new Connecticut law is giving abused animals their own legal representation.
The six-month-old legislation, called Desmond's Law, was inspired by a dog named Desmond who died a horrific death in 2012. Desmond was beaten, starved, and strangled to death. The perpetrator received the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist and the conviction was expunged from his record.
Proponents of Desmond's Law, which is the first of its kind in the U.S. according to University of Connecticut law professor and animal law expert Jessica Rubin, hope the law will prevent future animal abusers from receiving the same meaningless "punishment" that Desmond's killer did.
The new law allows judges to appoint official legal representatives for abused animals involved in legal proceedings, not unlike the way courts appoint advocates for child abuse cases.
"Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources," says Rubin. "Here's a way to help."
Rubin herself is one of eight people in Connecticut who have been granted approval as court-appointed advocates for animals. All of the advocates are volunteers, and whether or not an animal legal advocate is appropriate for a case is a matter of the judge's discretion.
An animal legal advocate's job is multifold and may involve conducting interviews with witnesses and experts, writing briefs, and making recommendations to a judge.
In the six months that Desmond's Law has been in effect, judges have appointed animal legal advocates in five animal cruelty cases. This past week marks the first time one of these advocates has testified in court. University of Connecticut law student Taylor Hansen testified on behalf of three pit bulls that were part of a dogfighting operation.
Although Desmond's Law stands alone in the books, it does indicate a trend toward recognizing animal welfare connected to cruelty cases more prominently in the legal world.
In January, Alaska passed a law requiring judges to consider the fate of pets in divorce cases. In May, Indiana passed a law protecting good Samaritans who rescue pets from hot cars. And in 2016, the FBI added animal cruelty to the list of crimes it collects data on and violent behavior toward animals gets filed in the national criminal database. Animal abuse is now seen as a red flag for future violent behavior.
What's more, law schools are jumping on board and offering more courses in animal law, says the Animal Legal Defense Fund. According to the organization, there were 151 law schools offering such courses in 2015, a marked increase from just nine schools in 2000.
You can learn more about Desmond's Law here.
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