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The Supreme Judicial Court’s responsibility is to interpret laws so they can achieve the goal lawmakers had in mind when they adopted the measure, Justice Kimberly S. Budd (above) wrote.
Teenagers cannot be prosecuted as adults when they physically assault animals because the legal term “bodily injury” only applies to human beings, the state’s high court ruled Monday.
The Supreme Judicial Court ordered the dismissal of animal cruelty and bestiality charges filed against a 14-year-old boy who “tortured a friend’s dog” forcing a soap dispenser into the animal’s body, causing “serious internal injuries to the dog.”
Prosecutors, who could have kept the case in Juvenile Court, instead decided to indict the unnamed teen as a youthful offender who could face adult prison upon conviction, a move they took because the animal suffered “serious bodily harm’’ under existing juvenile law.
But a unanimous SJC ruled Monday that the Legislature did not explicitly include animals in 1996 when they created the youthful offender process for teenagers accused of committing crimes of violence such as shooting, stabbings, or sexual assaults.
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“We do not discount the seriousness of the extremely disturbing allegations against the juvenile; they raise grave concerns about the juvenile’s mental health. Nor do we wish to downplay the suffering the dog went through during and after the attack,’’ Justice Kimberly S. Budd Wrote.
But, the court’s responsibility is to interpret laws so they can achieve the goal lawmakers had in mind when they adopted the measure, Budd wrote.
“The impetus for the 1996 amendment had nothing to do with harm to animals; instead it was sparked by the murder of a woman by a then thirteen year old juvenile,’’ Budd wrote. “We conclude that the ‘serious bodily harm’ referenced in the statute does not apply to animals. “
The court noted that prosecutors can still try the teenager in Juvenile Court, where the judge could fashion a sentence that takes into account what the SJC believes is a mentally troubled child.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Elspeth B. Cypher urged Beacon Hill lawmakers to update the law books and make it clear that teenagers can face trial and sentence as an adult when they victimize animals.
“Preventing animal cruelty is a tenet of our collective humanity and a crucial public policy goal in Massachusetts,’’ she wrote. “The Commonwealth also has a strong interest in identifying young people with violent tendencies and in preventing additional violence.”
Such a change can protect animals — and society as a whole, she wrote.
“A juvenile who intentionally harms an animal displays a concerning propensity for viciousness,’’ she wrote. “If the Commonwealth can respond to juvenile animal abuse effectively, it may help spare future victims, animal and human alike.”
John R. Ellement can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.