Friday, March 12, 2010

New York State Assembly Poised to Act on Bill
Holding Animal Owners Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Dog owner group calls on elected Albany representatives
to uphold state laws, challenges A9400 (Paulin) as illegal,
a direct violation of civil rights and misuse of public funds

March 12, 2010: The Dog Federation of New York (DFNY) today expressed deep concern regarding Assemblywoman Amy Paulin’s proposal regarding security bonds requirements in cases of animal cruelty allegations, placed on the agenda for the Assembly Agriculture meeting of March 16, 2009. A9400 expands on a highly questionable existing state law allowing pre-trial, permanent forfeiture of valuable animals—personal property—if defendants are unable to promptly post high cost security bonds to cover the maintenance of impounded animals pending resolution of charges.

Citing concerns of erroneous deprivation, a U. S. District Court in another jurisdiction struck down a substantially similar law on constitutional grounds in late 2009. Under existing New York law, defendants without the resources to post security bonds face immediate, permanent forfeiture of their animals to private impounding organizations before any action may be taken in their defense. Impounding organizations may then kill or sell off forfeited animals, retaining the proceeds for themselves.

In direct contradiction to existing state law, Paulin’s A9400 enhances forfeiture proceedings by requiring civil servants--district attorneys on the public payroll—to represent the interests of private corporations during security bond hearings. In addition to illegally requiring district attorneys, charged with defending the interests of the people of the State of New York, to represent private, not for profit corporations (impounding organizations), A9400 also violates state law by requiring district attorneys to act in civil matters such as the security bond hearings proposed by the bill.

“The members of the New York State Assembly have a duty to uphold the law. The Constitution of the State of New York and the U. S. Constitution protect the civil rights of all citizens, and the presumption of innocence, regardless of the nature of allegations, is fundamental,” said Mahlon Goer, Dog Federation of New York spokesperson. “We’d like to see Assemblywoman Paulin and the New York State Assembly uphold the law. Defendants cannot be assessed high financial penalties or face permanent loss of their animals—their personal property—before their trial even begins.”

Civil rights advocates also expressed concern that under the proposal defendants relying on public defenders must appear in court without the benefit of legal counsel during security bond hearings headed by district attorneys. Public defenders cannot act in civil matters in New York. A9400 requires defendants to cover the cost of maintaining animals no longer in their custody. New York State’s Criminal Procedure Law § 690.55 clearly places the responsibility for maintaining seized property on law enforcement personnel pending resolution of charges.

“We believe that all responsible owners of animals share a concern for the well being of pets and livestock, “ Goer continued. “Under the law, we are explicitly required to provide for their welfare and should be held accountable if we fail. However, our concerns cannot drive us to surrender the protection of our civil rights. We are innocent until proven guilty.”

S3155, Senator Craig Johnson’s companion bill to A9400, remains with the New York Senate Committee on Agriculture.

About the Dog Federation of New York

The Dog Federation of New York is a statewide coalition of dog clubs, organizations and individual dog owners that serves the public interest by educating citizens and public officials on responsible dog ownership. DFNY advocates for dog-friendly, dog-safe communities for all New Yorkers, and strong, and humane dog-related legislation. DFNY is committed to working with public officials to address the concerns we all share.


Post script: On March 26, and despite the many, many phone calls and emails sent to the NYS Assembly Committee on Agriculture by concerned New Yorkers, Asy. Amy Paulin's proposal was referred favorably to the Assembly Codes committee.

Watch this space -- or join the Dog Federation of New York's email list (information in the sidebar at right) -- for further information on how to oppose this bill.

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