Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Charges Against Horse Killer Dismissed

Some of you may recall that a bit more than a year ago I wrote of a case here in Two Rivers in which a person shot two of her neighbors horses, killing one and wounding the other. I was (and remain) upset that the FNSB Animal Control Division referred the case to the Alaska State Troopers rather than immediately investigate it as an animal cruelty case, and AST took nearly a week to send an officer to the scene to investigate. The shooter admitted she had fired her weapon, but insisted that she did so in protection of life and property, and that she had not intended to hit the horses.

The question at issue was whether firing a gun in a populated area and in the direction of a heavily used trail system, striking two horses, was or was not reasonable. It was my position (and remains my position) that "reasonable" must be defined by a jury who can hear and analyze the totality of circumstances to reach a unanimous decision. Quite a few folks put as much public pressure as we could on law enforcement and the district attorney's office to file charges, and finally, nearly five months after the event, the district's attorney filed a charge of Misconduct Involving Weapons in the Fourth Degree - "discharges a firearm with reckless disregard for a risk of damage to property or a risk of physical injury to a person under circumstances other than those described in AS 11.61.195 (a)(3)(A);"

The case languished in the courts until last week, when apparently the district attorney's office dismissed the charge. When I contacted the DA's office to ask why, I was politely but firmly told that such information is confidential, and shared only with those who are directly involved with the case.

There are several possible reasons why the DA may have made that decision. It's possible that the owner of the horses, who has since moved out of state, refused to return to testify. Since the U.S. Constitution allegedly guarantees the right to confront your accuser and the right to a speedy trial, he may have decided that any further attempt to pursue the matter would be unconstitutional. Some might believe that the DA was just unwilling to take an animal related case in front of a jury. I don't necessarily think so, but there is that little nagging thought that it is possible.

In any event, the case is now nothing more than a notation in the shooter's rap-sheet, which isn't particularly impressive even for such a small community as Two Rivers. Punishment is defined as consequences of a behavior that make the behavior less likely to be repeated in the future. Scientists have shown that punishment is effective only when the consequences are both timely and severe. Any consequence introduced too late or too little qualifies as nothing more than retribution. Although a conviction of a class-A misdemeanor can result in severe punishment, more than a year after the fact is nothing close to "timely."

Unfortunately, we still don't know whether shooting a neighbor's animal who follows your own animals home is or is not considered reasonable in this community. There is plenty of case law to show that killing wildlife that is enticed onto your property does not qualify as defense of life and property, but very little about domestic animals.

I doubt this particular person will ever again be confronted with similar circumstances, but if she were I suspect she'd probably choose a different course of action. 13 or 14 months is a long time to have the sword of Damocles or the threat of the law hanging over one's head. As far as I'm concerned, that has probably been more retribution than even the most ardent animal rights fanatic would ask.

That doesn't get the FNSB Division of Animal Control, the Alaska State Troopers or the District Attorney's office off-the-hook. Their indecisive approach to this incident shows a terrible lack of competence when it comes to animal related cases. If this case demonstrates 'doing their best', then doing their best isn't nearly good enough.

The most important lesson of this situation is a reminder of a very old saying - "Good fences make good neighbors." If you keep your critters under control this sort of thing won't happen in the first place.

Update, 12/02/09:  There is an article in today's issue of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner that confirms the D.A. dismissed the charges because the victim was not available to testify and more thoroughly explains the shooter's side of the story.  To read the story just click HERE.

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