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

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.
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 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?

Maximum penalty and Court that deals with this charge

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).

Aggravated animal cruelty will generally be heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

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.

Legislation

The section that covers this offence is section 10 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.1

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’ Courts

In the Magistrates’ Courts of Victoria, there were 78 cases (195 charges) of Aggravated Cruelty to an Animal that were heard from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019. Majority of these cases led to Fines (48.7%) followed by Imprisonment (24.4%). Other penalties imposed include Community Correction Order (15.4%), Adjourned Undertaking/Discharge/Dismissal (10.3%), and Wholly Suspended Sentence (1.3%).

Of the charges that led to fines, majority were sentenced to an amount equivalent to $20,000 or more (31.2%, aggregate). This was also the category most frequently imposed. For non-aggregate fines, the highest amount imposed was also the most frequently imposed: somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 (4.6%).

prison penalty sentencingFor cases that led to Imprisonment, the majority were sentenced to a term that was between 6 and 12 months (36.8%). The longest term imposed was between 12 and 18 months (15.8%) but this was the least imposed of all prison terms.3

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

Case Studies

 



[1] Section 9 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986
[2] The value of each penalty unit will change on 30 June 2020.
[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 November 18, 2019).
[4] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Abolished Sentencing Orders.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/abolished-sentencing-orders (accessed November 18, 2019).