AN ANIMAL D.A. STORY
by Theresa Welch, J.D.
While I was the "animal D.A." in San Francisco, I handled a case that gives ideas on how to proceed with an investigation into any type of animal abuse.
The U.S. Postal Service contacted San Francisco Animal Control regarding importation of illegal snakes. They discovered the snakes when an alert postal employee noticed that a package originating from Africa and marked "clothes" was "moving". When opened it was discovered that the package contained several illegal snakes. Animal Control, after contacting me and getting advice on how to proceed, went out immediately to confiscate the snakes. They also interviewed everyone who had handled the package or who was present when it was opened.
The next step was to put the package back together, minus the snakes of course, and send it to the address on the front. This allowed the officers to identify the person who was expecting the delivery. The pick up location was a mail box business. Once the person was identified, officers were able to locate his home address. The man who collected the package was interviewed, but denied knowing anything about the package's contents. At this point we did not have enough to charge this person, but we asked for and he agreed to speak with law enforcement.
Points to remember are:
1. Contact law enforcement as soon as you suspect some type of abuse or illegal activity.
2. Have law enforcement consult with a prosecutor on how to proceed. This will lead to the best handling of the case. A brief consultation can make the difference between a case that can later be charged and prosecuted, and one that has to be dropped because it was not properly handled.
3. Law Enforcement has to interview everyone and anyone who might have seen what occurred. This can also make a critical difference when the time comes to locate witnesses who are needed to testify. This interview must include how to contact them at work and at home. Also their dates of birth, driver's license numbers and Social Security numbers should be recorded. Then if a case takes a long time to pursue, you still have information that will help you locate witnesses should they move or change jobs.
4. Have Animal Control or law enforcement identify the person who is suspected of engaging in illegal or abusive activity towards animals. Even if the case cannot be charged at this point, animal control and/or law enforcement can always request an interview.
This case involving the snakes did go forward. Read in the next issue how we got more information on this person and obtained a search warrant. In the final segment I will tell you how the court ruled on this case.
Theresa Welch is a former criminal prosecutor with 20 years’ experience in animal cruelty cases in New Mexico and California who was instrumental in the passage of the 1991 felony cruelty law. She continues to advise people on issues related to animal cruelty.
Our legal and moral systems are deeply species-bound. -Richard Dawkins
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