SB 45: Classifying Animal Abuse as Domestic Violence
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Like most states, animal cruelty is illegal in Utah and animal abusers can be punished with a class A, B, or C misdemeanor, according to the severity of the crime. And because animals are classified as “tangible property” under state law, prosecutors could go even further to charge an individual with domestic violence if they harm the animal in the presence of their spouse.
Despite these laws that allow prosecutors leniency in deciding what penalty is most appropriate depending on the facts of the case, Senator Christensen is sponsoring Senate Bill 45. The bill would explicitly classify aggravated cruelty to animals to the long list of offenses that can be considered domestic violence. Sen. Christensen ran a similar bill in 2018 that failed in the House.
Animal abuse is an offense that can and will be punished under current law—but adding it to the list of domestic violence offenses opens the door for misapplications of the law. The current broadly written law should be narrowed to minimize abuse in application—which already unfortunately allows for damage of jointly owned property to be classified as domestic violence. We have supported legislation to narrow this law in the past, but SB 45 instead expands the law.