A Michigan Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for June 14 on two bills (House Bills 4703 and 4704) that address the issue of animals being seized on cruelty charges, and the payment of their care during impoundment. As currently written, these bills could cause a person to permanently forfeit their animals even if they are ultimately found not guilty of charges.
AKC appreciates that the bills clarify that if the owner is found not guilty, the animal must be returned to the owner. However, return appears to be incumbent on whether or not the owner has kept up on cost of care payments during the trial.
The measures under consideration on June 14 would also give an animal control agency the ability to euthanize an animal at any time during a cruelty trial if determined necessary by a licensed veterinarian.
Those who reside or participate in dog events in Michigan are strongly encouraged to contact the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. Express your concerns with current law and House Bills 4703 and 4704, and respectfully ask that the bills be amended to fully protect the rights of those not proven guilty of animal-related charges. Scroll Down for contact information.
Background – Current Law:
Current Michigan law allows an animal to be impounded by an animal protection shelter, its designee, or a licensed veterinarian when the owner is charged with a violation of the state’s cruelty laws. The law also allows a prosecuting attorney to request a court order that the animal be permanently forfeited to the impounding agency before the case is complete and there is a final disposition. This is also dependent on whether the person with an interest in the animal had prior knowledge or gave consent to the violation.
If a forfeiture order is requested, a hearing must be conducted and the prosecution has the burden of proof to convince the court a violation of the cruelty laws has occurred. If they meet the burden of proof, then the animal must be forfeited unless the defendant pays within 72 hours an amount that covers the anticipated costs of care for the animals during the trial. Owners may also be required to continue paying until the final disposition of charges.
Summary of Proposed Bills:
House Bills 4703 and 4704 amend current law and clarify that the owner or possessor may request a hearing within 14 days to determine if the requirement to pay is justified and the cost is fair and reasonable. AKC greatly appreciates that the owner has an opportunity for a hearing before payments are required.
If, however, the court determines that the costs are reasonable, then the animal will be permanently relinquished to the impounding agency unless the owner pays the required amount. The defendant’s ability to pay may be considered by the court. The payments must be made every 30 days until the criminal action is resolved. Any missed payments will result in the defendant permanently losing the rights to the animal.
AKC strongly believes that those who treat animals in a cruel manner should be held accountable. However, we continue to be concerned that both current law and the new provisions being proposed ignore the basic premise that individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and could remove the owner’s property rights even if charges are later dropped or the individuals are found not guilty.
For more talking points, view AKC’s Responsible Policy video Protecting Due Process Rights for Dog Owners.
What You Can Do:
House Bills 4703 and 4704 will be considered on Tuesday, June 14, in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Michigan dog owners are encouraged to contact the committee prior to the hearing. Let them know you appreciate the bills clarifying that the animals must be returned if the owner is found not guilty, but express your concerns with current law and the bills not fully protecting the rights of animal owners during a trial.
The contact information is as follows. If you are a constituent, be sure to mention that when contacting their office:
Sen. Roger Victory, Chair (Dist. 30- Hudsonville)
Sen. Curtis VanderWall, Majority Vice Chair (Dist. 35 – Ludington)
Sen. Stephanie Chang, Minority Vice Chair (Dist. 1 – Detroit)
Sen. Tom Barrett (Dist. 24 – Charlotte)
Sen. Jeff Irwin (Dist. 18 – Ann Arbor)
Sen. Ruth Johnson (Dist. 14 – Holly)
Sen. Jim Runestad (Dist. 15 – White Lake)
Sen. Douglas Wozniak (Dist. 8 – Shelby Township)
AKC Government Relations continues to monitor these bills and will provide more information as it is available. For questions, contact AKC GR at firstname.lastname@example.org.