October 8, 2012

Maximum prison sentence for beating California dog to death with hammer

The LA Times reported Friday that former Dreamworks animator Young Song pleaded no contest to a felony count of cruelty to an animal after jurors saw a security camera video of Song beating a neighbor’s 16-month-old German shepherd puppy to death with a hammer. “Prosecutors said Song entered a neighbor’s yard and shot the muzzled German shepherd with a pellet gun before returning to beat the animal with a hammer and disposing of its remains.” A NY Daily News report cited a prosecution source as saying that “Song was involved in a dispute with the dog’s owner and that both parties moved from the location after the dog went missing and was presumed dead.”

According to the LA Times article, Pasadena Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis sentenced Song to one year in jail, plus three years of probation and a ban restricting him from owning or caring for any animal for ten years. The prison term appears to be the maximum available for the charged offense under California law. California Penal Code § 597 provides that “[E]every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment . . . .”

Mental health evaluations or counseling are mandatory probation conditions. That’s important given the statistical probability of animal abuse escalating to violence against other human beings. A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that those who had committed a violent crime against an animal were five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Those statistics would seem to be borne out by the beating here being apparently rooted in a dispute between neighbors, with the dog bearing the tragic consequences.

The maximum prison term is entirely appropriate in this case, which involved two weapons, pursuit of the dog by the abuser, and deliberate concealment of the dog’s remains. But the maximum fine should also have been imposed. The Sacramento Bee reported the only information found on a fine in Song’s case, a requirement that he pay his former neighbors $75.00. Not nearly enough, even if the puppy’s life was assessed using mere market value.

If you are the guardian of a dog or other animal that has been killed or injured by someone, our Oregon animal law office may be able to help. Contact Portland animal rights attorney Dane Johnson for a free initial consultation.

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