Domestic Violence and Family Pets

By September 20, 2018Domestic Violence

Domestic violence in the Galveston area does not just affect partners and children. The family pet may also be a target of family violence. For this reason, Texas law authorizes judges to extend protective orders to pets. A person subject to such an order may, for example, be barred from “harming, threatening, or interfering with the care, custody, or control of a pet, companion animal, or assistance animal.”

Houston Court Upholds 5-Year Prison Sentence for Man Who Cut Girlfriend’s Dog

In addition to the penalties for violating such a protective order, harming a family pet can also lead to criminal charges under the Texas Penal Code. Section 49.092 classifies “cruelty to nonlivestock animals as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” killing or causing “serious bodily injury” to any domesticated animal without the owner’s consent. This means that if you get into a fight with your partner and decide to take out your anger on her dog, you may be prosecuted for a felony.

Here is a recent example. In August 2018, the Texas First District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Galveston, upheld the state-jail felony sentence of a man who previously pleaded guilty to violation Section 42.092. According to the evidence introduced at the defendant’s sentencing hearing, he “physically abused” his domestic partner for a period of two years. One evening, the defendant stabbed his partner’s dog with a kitchen knife, causing serious bodily injury to the animal.

There was some confusion as to what prompted the defendant’s attack. A pre-sentencing investigation report indicated the defendant had been fighting with his partner, and that “he threatened her with a knife” before turning his ire against the dog. But the partner later filed an affidavit suggesting the dog bit the defendant–outside of her presence–and he stabbed the animal in retaliation.

But as the First District noted, it doesn’t matter which account was true, as the defendant pleaded guilty to the offense. And since he “used and exhibited a deadly weapon” to commit the offense, he was subject to a sentencing enhancement. Ultimately, the trial court sentenced the defendant to 5 years in prison.

In affirming this sentence, the First District rejected the defendant’s argument that the sentencing enhancement was inapplicable since there was “insufficient” evidence he displayed or used the weapon against a human. Under previous decisions by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a deadly-weapon finding does not apply “under circumstances in which the sole recipient or being against whom a deadly weapon was used or exhibited was a nonhuman.” In this case, however, the First District said the plaintiff already pleaded guilty to the deadly-weapon enhancement, and in any event the evidence suggested he did use the knife to threaten his partner in addition to her dog.

Get Help from a Galveston Domestic Violence Attorney Today

If you are the subject of a protective order, you need to obey all of its terms, including those applicable to animals. And if you are charged with a criminal act arising from alleged abuse to a family pet, you need to contact an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney right away. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 843-9776 if you need immediate assistance.