Update: Enforcement of New Jersey’s Cruelty to Animals Act following repeal by law enforcement of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. | Fox Rothschild LLP

As you may recall, Governor Christie signed amendments to the New Jersey Cruelty to Animals statutes that removed the longstanding authority of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to enforce cruelty to animals statutes in the state effective 2018. Repealed by L .2017, c. 331, ยง 35. . .

These changes moved enforcement of these laws under the umbrella of district attorneys, who have specific statutory mandates set forth in NJSA 4:22-14.4:

“a. Each District Attorney shall:

(1) Appoint a municipality or county prosecutor as the county animal cruelty attorney and, if necessary, designate an assistant animal cruelty attorney to investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of any provision of Article 2 of Chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Articles of Association, and who may serve in that capacity on a part-time basis if the responsibilities of the position permit;

(2)(a) In consultation with the county sheriff, appoint a county police officer to serve as the county’s chief humane law enforcement officer, and may appoint any other law enforcement officer under the authority of the chief humane law enforcement officer to assist in investigations, arrest violators and otherwise acting as an officer in the detection, arrest and detention of criminals in violation of the provisions of Article 2 of Chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes.โ€

4:22-11.11 also requires the training of law enforcement officers who enforce these laws.

“a. The Police Training Commission, in cooperation with the Attorney General of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, shall develop or approve an Animal Welfare Law Enforcement Training Course which shall include, but not be limited to:

(1) laws, procedures, and enforcement methods and techniques for investigations, arrests, searches, and seizures, particularly relating to violations of state and local animal cruelty laws and regulations;

(2) information and procedures relating to animals, including animal behavior and characteristics and assessment of animals at a crime scene;

(3) Methods for identifying and documenting animal abuse, neglect and suffering; and

(4) Investigation of animal fights.โ€

Reporting requirements have also been established by law for municipal law enforcement officers to report to the Animal Cruelty Attorney, who in turn is required to report to the Attorney General the following county animal cruelty prosecution information for the most recently completed state fiscal year:

โ€œ(1) the number of complaints received from each municipality and, if applicable, the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals for each violation of any provision of Article 2 of Chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Bylaws;

(2) the number of complaints investigated;

(3) the number of complaints pursued or otherwise processed;

(4) the number of animals classified as forfeited;

(5) the number of animals returned to the owner;

(6) Proceeds of fines levied for breach of any provision of Article 2 of Chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Bylaws; and

(7) Any policy recommendation or concern related to the prosecution of cruelty to animals in the county or as described by a local humane law enforcement enforcement officer in the annual report required by paragraph (5) of subsection 4:22-14.7, as appropriate. Responsibilities of Animal Cruelty Prosecutors.

These reports from fiscal years 2019 through 2021, submitted to the Attorney General by all 21 counties in New Jersey, show that incoming complaints are widely investigated and, where appropriate, subpoenas are issued and offenders are prosecuted. A summary of the reported data includes:

4,717 complaints were received (some reports did not give the number but referred to a list of cases or counts issued under subsections of the Cruelty to Animals Act);

4544 complaints were investigated; and

621 complaints were followed up.

The number of animals awarded confiscation has been provided where known, but comments suggest that this data needs to be further characterized in order to estimate the number of animals confiscated during enforcement of animal cruelty separate those that have been voluntarily confiscated or suspended for other reasons.

The fines levied were not always reported, as some reporting bodies indicated that they did not have access to this data.

Of the 59 reports submitted, only 11 included recommended policy recommendations.

The breakdown of reported violations by section of the Cruelty Act revealed:

  1. 1956 for 4:22-17(a);
  2. 591 for 4:22-17(c);
  3. 264 for 4:22-17.2;
  4. 194 for 4:22-17.3;
  5. 91 for 4:22-17.4;
  6. 375 for 4:22-17.5;
  7. 41 for 4:22-18;
  8. 20 for 4:22-19;
  9. 3 for 4:22-19.3;
  10. 129 for 4:22-20;
  11. 2 for 4:22-21;
  12. 3 for 4:22-22;
  13. 32 for 4:22-25.1;
  14. 2 for 4:22-25.3;
  15. 1 for 4:22-25.4;
  16. 2 for 4:22-25.5;
  17. 61 for 4:22-26;
  18. 3 for 4:22-59; and
  19. 0 for 4:22-19.1, 19.2, 23, 24

The observations gleaned from these reports provide the following recommendations that would improve reporting and determine whether anything else is needed to understand current enforcement before additional changes to this law are warranted.

  1. When reporting, clarify how many and which violations were issued per case in order to be able to better understand which violations were prosecuted in how many cases.
  2. Remove the civil penalties from reporting or indicate where the violations were superfluous with criminal penalties.
  3. Request reporting of subsections of the sections contained in the current report to further clarify what violations are occurring. For example, 4:22-17(a) contains several potential violations, and clarity would help determine where the emphasis should be on enforcement and training.
  4. Call for a meeting of the attorney general with the county’s animal cruelty prosecutors to review enforcement protocols and procedures and, if necessary, recommend methods to harmonize enforcement across the state.

There is no evidence that the newly enacted enforcement provisions of this Act are not effective in prosecuting applicable animal cruelty violations.

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