For many Americans, a dog is more than just a mascot; they are an integral part of their families. For many years, thousands of people have advocated in favor of animals against abuse, cruelty, and neglect. Many New Jersey residents have spoken up about the need to defend these animals. As a result, New Jersey has enacted several laws protecting animals – including dogs – and punishing those who engage in illegal acts against them. Can you go to jail for killing or otherwise abusing a dog in New Jersey? Our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys from the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain.

Can I Go to Jail for Killing a Dog in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, all dog owners must follow strict rules to protect the lives, safety, and welfare of all dogs – and any other living animal. This means that if you violate any of the laws protecting animals in New Jersey, you can face potentially devastating consequences. There have been many cases where individuals believe they can do what they please with their dog(s) because they own them. However, dogs are protected against cruelty, abuse, neglect, and other reckless behavior from their owners or people in charge of their care.

According to N.J.S.A. § 4:22-17, it is illegal to needlessly kill a living animal or creature, including dogs. Additionally, it is also unlawful to inflict unnecessary cruelty, directly or indirectly, by allowing the harm to be done by another animal, or by neglect. Furthermore, this statute also punishes individuals who fail to provide their pets with their necessary care, such as shelter and food.

Generally, cruelty to animals in New Jersey is classified as a disorderly person’s offense, which can lead to jail time and steep fines. However, your charges can be more severe if there are aggravating factors in your case. For instance, if you are charged with tormenting, torturing, maiming, or otherwise causing unnecessary harm to a dog, you can face aggravated assault charges. Under these circumstances, you can face prison time and steep criminal fines.

In addition to these already crippling criminal consequences, your conviction will remain in your criminal record. A criminal conviction in your record can make it challenging to find a job, get a loan, or get approved for a home. It is essential to hire a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey if you or a loved one is charged with animal cruelty.

Criminal Penalties for Killing a Dog in New Jersey: Jail Time, Prison, and Fines

New Jersey does not divide crimes into misdemeanors and felonies, like many other states in the U.S. Instead, the state divide crimes into indictable crimes, disorderly person offenses, and petty disorderly person offenses. Disorderly and petty disorderly person offenses are lesser criminal charges, while indictable crimes are the most serious types of criminal offenses with which you can be charged.

Indictable offenses are divided into four main degrees: the lower the degree number, the more severe your charges and potential penalties. If you are charged with a fourth-degree crime, you can face up to eighteen months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. In comparison, if you are accused of a first-degree crime (the most severe type of crime), you can face anywhere from ten years to life in prison and up to $200,000 in fines.

If you are charged with abandoning your dog, you can face disorderly person charges, which can lead to a $1,000 penalty and up to six months in jail (N.J.S.A. § 4:22-20(b)). However, if you are charged and convicted for killing a dog, you can face more severe offenses.

For instance, according to N.J.S.A. § 4:22-17(c), it is illegal to purposely, knowingly, or recklessly torment, torture, abuse, or otherwise engage in actions that may harm an animal (including dogs), can face third-degree crime charges. If you are convicted for a third-degree crime in New Jersey, you can face up to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in criminal fines. The same type of charges and criminal penalties shall be imposed on any person who kills a dog owned or used by the police. Animal cruelty, in general, especially abuse against a dog resulting in death, is punishable by law, and the criminal consequences can have lasting repercussions over your life.

Cases of Animal Cruelty and their Criminal Consequences in New Jersey

There have been notorious cases in New Jersey related to animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect. These cases show the seriousness of this type of behavior and its potential impact on the alleged abuser’s life.

Fairly recently, a woman in Northfield, NJ, was charged with animal cruelty for leaving four dogs out in the cold during winter. Out of the four dogs at the woman’s house, one (a 9-year old dog), died of congestive heart failure.

Another woman from Shamong, NJ, was charged with animal cruelty after the police found 44 dead dogs wrapped in plastic bags inside a freezer. The police also found another 161 dogs living in inhumane conditions, for which she faced additional charges.

Two New Jersey men from Sewell and Millville were charged with animal cruelty for having an illegal dogfighting ring. The police reported that both men organized and hosted dog fights where several animals died.

All of these cases can show how seriously the state takes animal protection from abuse and neglect. If you are charged with killing a dog, you will face criminal charges and a potential conviction. It is critical to have an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who can guide you and defend you.

Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney for a Free Consultation if You Were Charged

Facing New Jersey’s criminal justice system can be frightening, especially if you have never faced problems with the law before. It is essential to have competent legal representation by your side if you have been charged with animal cruelty in New Jersey. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, we can fight aggressively to uphold your rights as a defendant. To learn more about our services, and discuss the details of your case, call our criminal defense attorney today and schedule your free, confidential consultation. Our phone number is (609) 616-4956.