Court sends wrong message

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The sad reality is that our legal system often hands out little more than a slap on the wrist for crimes that merit more severe punishment.

It appears that Lawrence County Municipal Judge Donald Capper felt even that was too harsh a sentence for a man that pleaded no-contest to animal abuse stemming from keeping a dog chained too tightly, allowing the chain to essentially grow into the animal’s neck.

While the judge did opt to make the animal’s owner give the dog to a West Virginia animal hospital and pay the more than a $2,000 veterinarian’s bill for surgically removing the chain from the dog’s neck, this simply wasn’t enough.

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What kind of message does this send to those who abuse animals? How can our laws act as even the most basic of deterrents when the penalties are so soft that they essentially mean nothing?

The animal abuse charge is a second-degree misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s office recommended a sentence of 30 days in jail with 18 days suspended; a $250 fine and 60 hours of community service.

So what did the offender get? Basically, nothing more than that aforementioned slap.

The judge gave him only a 20-day jail sentence, less than a third of the maximum and several days less than recommended. But wait, that sentence was even suspended on the condition that he serves 60 hours of community service.

The man also received a fine of $400 and court costs of $90. Guess what, both of these were suspended too.

While some will argue that the restitution of $2,198 to the veterinarian and the community service is punishment enough that simply doesn’t add up.

Taking such a soft approach to animal abuse sends the wrong message, essentially telling those who don’t treat animals properly that their behavior is not acceptable, but not exactly frowned upon either.

Capper was likely trying to fairly administer the law as he saw it but we fear he missed the big picture in this case that sets a dangerous precedent.

Animal abusers deserve more than just a slap on the wrist or a slap in the wallet.