Rhode Island joins a growing number of states and local jurisdictions with proposed Animal Abuse Registries.

In this case, H7414, would establish an “Animal abuser registry” defined as “the online registry established and maintained by the department of the attorney general for registering any person convicted of an animal abuse crime.”

Anyone “convicted” as defined below, would have to register, pay a $125 fee for registration or be liable for a penalty of $1,000 or up to one year in jail.

‘Conviction’ or ‘convicted’ means any instance wherein:

(i) A judgment of conviction has been entered against any person; or

(ii) There has been a finding of guilty for any offense, regardless of whether an appeal is pending; or

(iii) There has been a plea of guilty or nolo contendere for any offense, regardless of whether an appeal is pending; or

(iv) There has been an admission of sufficient facts or a finding of delinquency of a minor for any offense, whether or not an appeal is pending.

The attorney general is authorized to establish and maintain this list of all “animal abuse offenders living in Rhode Island who are convicted of an animal abuse crime on or after the effective date of this chapter.”

The law prohibits the sale or transfer of ownership from all pet stores, animal shelters or other persons within the state to someone on the registry, and does not allow the animal abuse offender to retain possession of any currently owned animals.

Existing law in Rhode Island already provides that any owner “upon conviction, plea of guilty, or plea of nolo contendere, of abandonment, neglect, or cruel treatment of any animal taken charge of by the Rhode Island society for the prevention of cruelty to animals [or the department of environmental management] . . . forfeits the rights to ownership or control of that animal to the society for disposition in any manner deemed suitable for that animal.” R.I.S.A. §§ 4-1-22, 42.

This new bill, if passed, would add significantly greater punishment to those convicted of or pleading guilty to animal cruelty offenses.

As previously discussed here, the loss of the right of pet ownership may be appropriate in many cases of animal cruelty. However, the lack of judicial discretion in Rhode Island’s proposed bill seems unreasonably draconian, particularly in cases in which an accused offender may unknowingly agree to a plea bargain without understanding the actual ramifications of such actions.