Could Pets Get a Right to an Attorney in New Jersey?

pets' right to attorney
pets' right to attorney

If your pet was abused, would you want the abuser brought to justice? Under most federal and state laws, pets are regarded as property — meaning they have little to no legal rights of their own. There aren’t many scenarios where legal rights for a pet comes into question. But when they are the victims of abuse, it’s led many legislators and animal advocates to wonder, how can those who commit crimes against animals be brought to justice if animals don’t have a voice? A New Jersey politician is trying to make it so that people who abuse their pets are given appropriate punishment.

In New Jersey, new legislation is being considered that would give pets that have suffered from animal abuse the right to an attorney. The bill is specific to cats and dogs, and is being put forth in an effort to have the owners who committed the abuse face justice for harming their pets.

Essentially, this means that pets would be given a legal advocate in court by an attorney or law student as pro bono work, meaning the cases would be taken on a volunteer basis. The main point of the bill is to be able to fight for justice in cases where animal abusers are getting off with little punishment.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union hopes that the bill will provide closure to families where there typically isn’t any. Many animal rights cases end without trial, so the owner gets off without a conviction. If they do receive any sort of punishment, it often falls closer to the lighter end of the sentencing range. She argues that pets are truly a member of the family, and when they’re hurt they deserve justice, especially because pets usually don’t have anyone in their corner arguing for their rights.

With this bill, Quijano hopes that it would bring more attention to animal abuse cases and harsher penalties for those who commit animal abuse.

How Will This Bill Help Bring Animal Abusers to Justice?

If the bill passes, attorneys who volunteer as advocates for animals would monitor and attend hearings, consult with individuals who are familiar with the animal’s welfare, review records on the case, and present recommendations to a judge.

Legislation like this might sound a little out of the ordinary, but it actually isn’t new. In Connecticut, legislation like this proposed bill was passed in 2016.

“Desmond’s Law” was created in an effort to seek justice for a dog named Desmond who was brutally abused and murdered by his owner. His owner received Accelerated Rehabilitation and the incident has since been expunged from his record.

Advocates for Desmond didn’t feel this was fair and set out to create legislation to make sure something like this didn’t happen again. The bill they helped create provides attorneys or law students as volunteers to animals just like the New Jersey bill.

A similar bill to these has also recently been proposed in New York.