The state’s highest court wants the Legislature to take a look at expanding Youthful Offender laws to include teenagers charged with cruelty to animals, and a state senator said he will answer that call in an upcoming bill.
The case Commonwealth vs. J.A. involves an unnamed juvenile defendant charged with animal cruelty and beastiality involving his neighbor’s dog, resulting in serious injuries to the dog.
The alleged assailant was 14 at the time of the August 2015 incident, and the Supreme Judicial Court yesterday upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the charges because the “serious bodily harm” clause in the Youthful Offender Statute is meant to apply only to people, not animals.
Associate Justice Elspeth B. Cypher called on the Legislature to amend the law to protect animals as well.
“If the Legislature wishes to empower prosecutors to respond to similar acts of animal brutality,” Cypher wrote, “it may expand the reach of the youthful offender statute and other statutes proscribing violence to better address animal abuse and cruelty in the Commonwealth.
“A dog was horrifically tortured, and because her torturer was a teenager, the Commonwealth had limited recourse,” Cypher added.
The youthful offender statute, which applies to teens aged 14 to 18, effectively allows prosecutors to try them as adults.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) said he will look to address the issue through a follow-up to the 2014 Protecting Animals Welfare and Safety Act in next year’s session.
“We definitely need to do more to protect against the kind of cases that gave rise to this decision and to hit, head-on, these cases of serious animal cruelty,” Tarr told the Herald. “This kind of abuse rises to the level that making someone eligible for the youthful offender statute should be considered.”
Tarr said he will work through the holiday recess to add language to the bill expanding the statute, noting, as the SJC did, the propensity for young people who harm animals to end up harming humans.
Associate Justice Kimberly S. Budd called the allegations “extremely disturbing” and noted the suffering the dog went through during and after the attack, but wrote that current laws are explicit in defining whether and how they apply to animals.
“The juvenile was 14 at the time of the offense. Now 16, he will age out of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction within a year, but legislative action could make a difference in the next case,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, whose office indicted the teen.
Bob McGovern contributed to this report.
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