Massachusetts Court Ruling Expands Protections for Animals in Danger

Friday, April 11, 2014 - 3:15pm
Grey curly haired dog

The ASPCA applauds today’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision in the case of Commonwealth v. Heather M. Duncan. The Court ruled that law enforcement can enter property without a warrant if they have a reasonable basis for believing that an animal’s life is in danger, mirroring the “emergency aid” exception for warrants that already applies to the protection of human life.

The case was a result of an event that occurred on January 8, 2011. After receiving a call from a neighbor, police entered the front yard of the defendant, Ms. Duncan, without a warrant and removed three dogs that had been left outside in severely inclement weather. Two of the dogs were deceased, and one was extremely emaciated with no food or water. When the defendant was later charged with three counts of animal cruelty, she challenged the police’s entry into her yard and any evidence gathered from the yard, arguing that law enforcement was required to get a warrant before entering the property.

The ASPCA filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief urging the Court to allow police to enter homes without a warrant when they believe an animal is injured or in imminent danger. “This important ruling appropriately empowers police to provide emergency aid to animals in peril and will encourage courts in states that have not yet decided this important issue to expand their animal protection laws,” explains Jennifer Chin, Vice President of the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy department. “This is a major victory for animals in Massachusetts, and we’re pleased to be able to play a role in this.”

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