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Harming Animals

18 U.S.C. § 1368 - Harming Animals Used in Law Enforcement

In the United States, law enforcement agencies often utilize animals, such as dogs and horses, to assist officers in carrying out their duties. When federal agencies use these animals, they are protected by federal law.

Harming Animals Used in Law Enforcement - 18 U.S.C. § 1368

Title 18 U.S. Code 1368 criminalizes the intentional harming of animals used in federal law enforcement.

Specific mischief and misconduct can result in federal charges when someone acts maliciously. Federal criminal charges mean you could face time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

18 U.S.C. 1368 says, “(a) Whoever willfully and maliciously harms any police animal, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not more than 1 year. If the offense permanently disables or disfigures the animal, or causes serious bodily injury to or the death of the animal, the maximum term of imprisonment shall be 10 years.

(b) In this section, the term “police animal” means a dog or horse employed by a Federal agency, whether in the executive, legislative, or judicial branch, for the principal purpose of aiding in the detection of criminal activity, enforcement of laws, or apprehension of criminal offenders.”

You will need representation by a federal criminal defense lawyer who can give you the best chance at avoiding a conviction. Most lawyers don't know how federal cases are prosecuted or how to prepare adequate defense strategies. This means choosing the right attorney could be your most important decision.

If you're charged with this crime, you could face up to a year in prison if convicted—and up to 10 years if the animal in question suffered harm due to your actions. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.

Title 18 U.S.C. 1368 Explained

Title 18 U.S. Code 1368 is relatively straightforward, making it a crime to "willfully and maliciously" harm any police animal or to attempt or conspire to do so.

A "police animal" is defined as "a dog or horse employed by a federal agency...for the principal purpose of aiding in the detection of criminal activity, enforcement of laws, or apprehension of criminal offenders."

To procure a conviction under U.S.C. 1368, federal prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You harmed an animal (or attempted to do so);
  • You did so willfully and maliciously; and
  • The victimized animal was a dog or horse used by a federal agency for law enforcement purposes.

Note that this law only applies to animals used in federal law enforcement, not all police animals. So if you harm a police dog owned by local police, for example, you may face charges under local or state laws, but you would not be guilty of a federal crime.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Ted leaves a piece of poisoned meat under his car tire in an airport parking lot, knowing that the FBI is using drug-sniffing dogs to sniff around the cars. Ted could be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1368 for attempting to harm a police animal, even if no dog eats the meat.

Animals Used in Law Enforcement

EXAMPLE 2: Eric hides behind the bushes with a BB gun and fires shots at horses used by mounted federal agents. Eric can be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1368.

EXAMPLE 3: Jane kicks a police dog that is being used by local police in the apprehension of a criminal offender. While Jane could be charged under local or state laws, she is not guilty of a federal crime because federal agents did not use the dog.

EXAMPLE 4: In an act of vengeance, Tom sneaks into the backyard of an FBI officer and kills the family dog. While he may be charged with other crimes, Tom won't be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1368 because the dog in question was not in the service of law enforcement.

What are the Related Federal Offenses?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 65 Malicious Mischief has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1368 harming animals used in law enforcement, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1361 – Government property or contracts; 
  • 18 U.S.C. 1362 – Communication lines, stations, or systems;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1363 – Buildings or property within territorial jurisdiction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1364 – Interference with foreign commerce by violence;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1365 – Tampering with consumer products;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1366 – Destruction of an energy facility: 
  • 18 U.S.C. 1367 – Interference with the operation of a satellite: 
  • 18 U.S.C. 1369 – Destruction of veterans' memorials.

What are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1368?

Violations of U.S.C. 1368 may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony offense, depending on the nature and extent of harm inflicted on the animal. If you're accused of this crime, you could face the following penalties:

  • Misdemeanor Offense: If the harm inflicted is not severe, you may face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Felony Offense: If the harm inflicted on the law enforcement animal results in serious bodily injury, death, or permanent disability to the animal, you'll be charged with a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $250,000.

In addition to the criminal penalties, offenders may be held financially liable for the cost of veterinary care, rehabilitation, or replacement of the injured or deceased law enforcement animal.

What are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1368?

If you're charged under Title 18 U.S. Code 1368, a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can utilize various defenses to answer the charges. Common defenses are discussed below.

Defenses for Harming Animals Used in Law Enforcement

Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. Remember, a conviction under U.S.C. 1368 requires prosecutors to show that your actions were done willfully and maliciously. If your attorney can show that the harm done to the animal was accidental or unintentional, you may be able to get the charges dismissed.

Perhaps we can argue self-defense. Your attorney may claim that you harmed the law enforcement animal in self-defense or defense of another person.

This defense may apply if the accused reasonably believed they were in imminent danger of physical harm from the animal. This defense may be more effective if photographic or video evidence shows the animal attacking you.

Perhaps we can argue there was a mistake of fact. Your attorney may argue that you were unaware that the animal in question was used in federal law enforcement (i.e., protected by law). Therefore you could not have willfully violated this law by attempting to harm it.

You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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