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Aggravated Animal Cruelty

– section 10 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986

Aggravated Animal Cruelty is when an act of cruelty to an animal causes death or serious injury to the animal. Acts of cruelty can include abusing, torturing, driving over, confining, failing to properly look after and poisoning.1
[1] Section 9 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986
Aggravated animal cruelty will generally be heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
Examples of Aggravated Animal Cruelty
  • 2 people run a small horse farm and pay no or little attention to the horses’ health. As a result all 12 horses are suffering long term dental, eye, parasite, and other health problems.
  • A person refuses to feed their dog for 5 days as punishment for barking through the night. The dog then dies.
  • A person throws large rocks at a possum for fun. The possum’s leg is broken as a result, and the possum is then put down by vets.
One of our clients, in company with 3 other teenagers, had stolen a cat and then strung it up on a bridge until it died. In the Children’s Court, the accused was charged with theft and Aggravated Cruelty to an animal. He was sentenced to 4 months detention in a Youth Training Centre. We successfully represented our client to appeal against the sentence. The appeal was successful, and our client was re-sentenced, without conviction, to a probation order for 6 months.
What is the legal definition of Aggravated Animal Cruelty?
The legal definition of Aggravated Animal Cruelty is an act of cruelty to an animal that results in death or serious injury.

The section that covers this offence is section 10 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

Elements of the offence
The following elements must be established in court for an accused to be proven guilty of Aggravated Animal Cruelty:

  • The accused committed an act or acts of cruelty on any animal.
  • The said cruelty resulted in the death or serious disablement of the animal.

What are possible defences to an Aggravated Animal Cruelty charge?
  • There was no act of cruelty.
  • There was an honest and reasonable belief that the act was not cruel.
  • Death or serious disablement was not caused by the act.
  • Was someone else taking care of your animal at the time that it suffered abuse?
  • Serious injury caused to the animal was in the course of defending yourself from the animal.
There are other possible defences, depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offending. Each matter is unique and requires an individual approach and strategy.

Questions you might be asked in these cases include:
  • Were you the owner of the animal at the time it suffered cruelty?
  • What kind of suffering did the animal endure?
  • Did the cruelty result in the death or serious injury of the animal?

The maximum penalty for this offence in the case of a natural person is 500 penalty units ($82,6102) or imprisonment for 2 years or, in the case of a body corporate, 1200 penalty units ($198,264).
[2]The value of each penalty unit will change on 30 June 2020.
What can you be sentenced to for this charge?

A range of sentences are available, from a fine for less serious offences to a jail term for the most serious. Jail terms are more common that they used to be for these types of offences.

Sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates’ Court

There were 78 cases (195 charges) of Aggravated Cruelty to an Animal that were heard in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019. Of these cases, majority were sentenced to a Fine (55.9%) and Community Correction Order (19.5%).

Other penalties imposed were imprisonment (18.5%), Adjourned Undertaking/Discharge/Dismissal (4.1%), and Wholly Suspended Sentence (2.1%).

The highest amount of fine imposed was $20,000 or more (31.2% of all charges that led to fines). This was also the most frequently imposed amount among all charges that led to fines. The lowest fines imposed was less than $500 (0.9% of fines imposed).

Of the cases that led to prison, majority were sentenced between 6 and 12 months (36.8%). The longest term imposed was somewhere between 12 and 18 months although this was least imposed at 15.8%.3

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.4

[3] Sentencing Advisory Council. “SAC Statistics – Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1986 (Vic): s 10(1) – aggravated cruelty to an animal.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/86_46_10_1.html (accessed April 20, 2020).
[4] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Abolished Sentencing Orders.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/abolished-sentencing-orders (accessed April 20, 2020).

Other information about Aggravated Animal Cruelty