ASPCA Applauds Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling Expanding Protections for Animals in Peril

ASPCA filed amicus curiae brief urging the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court to allow police to enter property without a warrant when they have a reasonable belief that an animal is injured or in imminent danger
April 11, 2014

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is pleased with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision expanding the emergency exception to the warrant requirement to protect animals in danger of imminent harm. The case Commonwealth v. Heather M. Duncan [PDF] presented the question whether law enforcement can enter property without a warrant if they have a reasonable basis for believing that an animal’s life is in danger, expanding an exception that already applies to the protection of human life.

“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,” said 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.”

On January 8, 2011, after receiving a call from a neighbor, police entered the defendant's front yard without a warrant and seized 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. Concerned that the living dog was in danger and unable to contact the defendant, police entered the yard without a warrant and removed the living dog, along with the deceased dogs. The defendant was later charged with three counts of animal cruelty, and the defendant challenged the police entry into the yard and any evidence gathered from the yard, arguing that police were required to get a warrant before entering the property.

In the proceedings before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy department submitted an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the prosecution, arguing that the Court should rule that the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement extends to police action taken to provide emergency assistance to animals. The Court agreed, stating in today’s ruling that the exception “permits the police in certain circumstances to enter a home without a warrant when they have an objectively reasonable basis to believe that there may be an animal inside who is injured or in imminent danger of physical harm.”

The ASPCA Legal Advocacy department focuses on increasing legal protections for animals across the country and shaping stronger animal welfare laws through the judicial system. The department is part of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Group, which is also comprised of Field Investigations and Response, Anti-Cruelty Behavior, Strategy and Campaigns, Humane Law Enforcement, Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects.