OREGON -- A Portland-area dog owner found guilty of starving her pet was rightfully convicted -- even though a veterinarian gathered evidence against her by drawing the dog's blood without a warrant, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The high court noted that dogs are not "mere" property and don't require a warrant to search internally. The court differentiated animals from, say, containers or suitcases with drugs or other items stashed inside.
The ruling reverses a 2014 Oregon Court of Appeals decision that prosecutors say made it tougher for veterinarians to provide seized animals immediate care for their injuries. Prosecutors also say the 2014 Appeals Court reversal made it more difficult to pursue criminal charges against owners accused of starving, beating or otherwise harming their animals.
According to a Supreme Court summary:
The case at issue began in 2010, when an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that then 28-year-old Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog, failing to properly feed it and keeping it in a kennel for many hours a day.
An animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb's apartment in December 2010 and, once invited in, saw "Juno" in the yard with "no fat on his body." The dog, the investigator reported, "was kind of eating at random things in the yard, and trying to vomit."
The investigator asked why, and Newcomb said she was out of dog food but that she was going to get more that night, according to the summary of the case.
The investigator determined a "strong possibility" existed that Juno needed medical care and took the dog to a Humane Society vet. The vet gave Juno food, charted his weight and measured his rapid weight gain over several days. The vet also drew Juno's blood and ruled out any disease. The investigator concluded nothing was wrong with the dog other than it was very hungry.
Newcomb was convicted of second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor. Among other problems with the conviction, Newcomb argued, authorities violated her constitutional rights to be protected from unreasonable searches of property by drawing blood from her dog. Under Oregon law, animals are defined as property.
At a 2011 trial, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bergstrom denied her motion to suppress the blood evidence -- by agreeing with prosecutor Adam Gibbs, who argued that a dog taken to the veterinarian's office for examination and care is similar to a suspected child-abuse victim taken into protective custody for examination and care.
Gibbs also argued that a dog is not a container -- like an inanimate piece of property -- that requires a warrant. Rather, Gibbs argued that a dog "doesn't contain anything" -- and that what's inside a dog is just "more dog."
The Supreme Court Thursday agreed, stating that the chemical composition of Juno's blood was not "information" that Newcomb "placed in Juno for safekeeping or to conceal from view."
Jacob Kamins, who is the state's animal cruelty deputy district attorney, said Thursday's Supreme Court ruling is the third in a series of high court decisions to boost animal-protection efforts in the past two years.
"There's a feeling that the issue of animal welfare is really coming into its own in the criminal justice world," Kamins said.
In State v. Arnold Nix, the high court ruled that a Umatilla County man who was convicted of starving 20 horses and goats on his property could be sentenced -- not just on one count of second-degree animal neglect -- but on 20 counts, meaning each animal was treated as a separate "victim."
In State v. Linda Fessenden and Teresa Dicke, the high court said a sheriff's deputy was legally justified in 2010 in rushing onto a Douglas County pasture to get medical help for a horse that was so malnourished every one of its ribs was showing.
(Oregon Live - June 16, 2016)