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In April 2016, a former administrator at Palmdale School District and her live-in boyfriend pleaded no contest to two felony counts of animal abuse. The administrator faces 270 days in jail and the boyfriend faces a year in jail. If you're charged with the abuse or neglect an animal you too could be facing the possibility of serving time behind bars.

Animal abuse is taken very seriously, and the penalties imposed under California animal abuse and cruelty laws reflect that. Whether you will be sentenced to jail depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the abuse, cruelty, or neglect, and whether it is a first, second, or subsequent offense.

California Penal Code Section 597 is California's primary animal cruelty statute. A violation of Section 597 can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. In addition to fines, losing custody of your pet, having to pay the costs of care for the animal, and having to attend counseling, those convicted under this statute also can be sentenced to:

  • Up to one year in county jail if a convicted as a misdemeanor
  • Up to three years in a California state prison if convicted as a felony

In addition to Section 597, other sections of California's penal code address specific types and incidents of animal abuse, each carrying their own penalties, including potential jail or prison time.

  • Cockfighting. California Penal Code sections 597b, 597c, 597i, and 597j contain prohibitions against participating in cockfighting, even as a spectator. All convictions for cockfighting include the possibility of incarceration. Specifically:
    • Causing or allowing a cockfight or possessing, training, or keeping a rooster to be used in a cockfight is a misdemeanor that can lead to up to one year in a county jail upon conviction. A second or subsequent conviction can be treated as either a misdemeanor or a felony punishable by up to a year in county jail or the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. (Penal Code Sec. 597b).
    • A conviction for being a spectator at a cockfight is a misdemeanor that carries a possible penalty of up to six months in a county jail. (Penal Code Sec. 597c).
  • Dogfighting. As with cockfighting, participating in dogfighting either as an owner, promoter, trainer, or spectator can get you time behind bars. (Penal Code Sec. 597.5). California dogfighting laws impose the following possible jail or prison sentences:
    • Other than being a spectator, a violation of California's dogfighting law is a felony carrying the possibility of a sentence of up to three years in a state prison.
      Being a spectator at a dog is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a county jail.
      Sexual Abuse of Animals. Sexually abusing an animal is a misdemeanor, subjecting you to a maximum of six months in a county jail. (Penal Code Sec. 286.5).
    • Animal Poisoning. It is a misdemeanor to intentionally poison an animal, carrying the possibility of six months in a county jail upon conviction. (Penal Code Sec. 596).
    • Animal in Unattended Vehicle. Leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle can be charged as a misdemeanor if the animal suffers “great bodily injury” or if it is a second or subsequent offense. Upon conviction, a sentence of up to six months in a county jail is possible.

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Gerald Schwab, Jr.


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Law Office of Gerald Schwab, Jr.
Fresno Criminal Defense Attorney
5588 N Palm Ave,
Fresno, CA 93704
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Phone: 559.441.1418