Pre-conviction forfeiture

In a prior blog I discussed proposed amendments to Oregon’s animal cruelty statute that would provide for statutory standing to any plaintiff who files a complaint against any animal owner for alleged violations of the state’s animal cruelty statute.  Below, are summaries of several Oregon cases litigated pursuant to the current or in effect at that time.

In State v. Branstetter, 45 P.3d 137 (Or. Ct. App. 2002) review denied 54 P.3d 1042, 334 Or. 632, a horse and donkey owner was charged with 12 counts of animal neglect in the first degree, which was a Class A misdemeanor.  Id., at 138 (citing ORS 167.330).  Defendants’ animals were seized and were cared for by the pioneer Humane society of Umatilla County, who filed a petition for the animals before Defendant’s trial.  The Court ordered the forfeiture of animals if Defendant did not post a $2,700 bond within 72 hours, which he failed to do.

After being acquitted on all counts, Defendant filed an appeal with the following issue.

“Was defendant denied constitutional due process and right to a remedy as a consequence of the forfeiture statute that did not provide for setting aside the forfeiture(s) subsequent to the acquittal(s)?”  Id.

The Court denied the appeal, “reject[ing] defendant’s due process and remedies clause arguments without discussion.”  The Court also rejected Defendant’s that “any forfeiture to cover the costs of his animals’ care during the pendency of the criminal prosecution violates the excessive fines provisions of Article I, section 16, of the Oregon Constitution, and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”  Id., at 139.

In Stirton v. Trump, 121 P.3d 714 (Or. Ct. App. 2005), a dog owner, charged with 31 counts of animal neglect in the second degree and the county impounded the 31 dogs, and a justice of the peace ordered forfeiture of the dogs following a petition filed by the impounding county.  The County Circuit Court, hearing a petition for a writ of review filed by the Defendant over jurisdictional matters, entered judgment awarding the county the cost of boarding the 31 dogs and dismissing Defendant’s petition.

On appeal, the Court affirmed the trial court’s holding that the justice of the peace court had subject matter jurisdiction, but reversed the award, finding that the county was not a party to the petition.

In State v. Marsh, 66 P.3d 541 (Or. Ct. App. 2003), the Court limited the amount in restitution the defendant must pay to the care of providing for only the ten animals he was convicted of neglecting, and not for the 69 animals that were seized from his property.

In City of Lebanon v. Milburn (2017) 398 P.3d 486 (Or. Ct. App. 2017), the Court, on appeal, rejected the City’s argument that the forfeiture of Defendant’s dog in this case was irreversible, even after the Defendant had been acquitted of criminal charges of animal cruelty.  The Court’s holding in this case, is notable:

The issue on appeal turns on whether the circuit court erred in ordering the city to return defendant’s property upon acquittal after the municipal court had ordered the property forfeited under ORS 167.350 as part of defendant’s sentence.  A court is permitted to order forfeiture, but it is contingent upon a court having determined that defendant is guilty of the offense charged. ORS 167.350(1).  Necessarily, we have recognized that ‘[t]here can be no sentence, probation or other sanction after an acquittal’ . . . We have characterized a forfeiture that is part of sentencing under ORS 167.350 as a punitive forfeiture . . . In this case, although the forfeiture was authorized under ORS 167.350 as part of the sentence in municipal court, defendant cannot continue to be subject to a punitive sanction after she has been acquitted. An acquittal is an acquittal. That outcome necessarily implicates the forfeiture that is part of the judgment in municipal court . . . Because defendant was acquitted in the circuit court, property taken from her as a result of the municipal court judgment must be returned.  Id., at 487-488 (citations omitted).

Based on these cases, Oregon already has sufficient state laws to protect animals from owners who fail to care for them humanely, such that the proposed amendment discussed here, that would permit anyone, to file a civil suit against an animal owner because of public policy concerns, is unnecessary.  Such an amendment would lead to a flood of lawsuits filed by plaintiffs who object to the use of animals in agriculture, biomedical research, breeding and other animal-related businesses.