New Florida Animal Abuse Law with Stiffer Penalties Went into Effect October 1
As of October 1, a number of new laws will take effect in Florida, including one that imposes harsher penalties for abusing animals. Others going into effect also increase penalties for anyone who trespasses on Florida airport property, including Miami, Orlando, and Tampa International Airports.
The animal abuse law stems from an incident that occurred last year which involved the beating of a 9-month-old puppy named “Ponce.” The new law—“Ponce’s Law”—makes it more likely that offenders go to jail if convicted, increases the severity ranking of animal-abuse-related crimes in general, and bars those who have been convicted of animal cruelty from owning pets, including during their period of probation. Essentially, it places discretion into the hands of the judge, who can bar offenders from owning pets for a court-ordered period of time.
Prior to Ponce’s Law going into effect, someone convicted of animal abuse would have been found guilty of a Level 3 offense, which carries 16 points in Florida’s system. For example, the man accused of animal cruelty in Ponce’s case faces a third-degree felony charge, punishable by spending up to five years in prison and paying a $10,000 fine.
As of October 1, the offense falls into the Level 5 category, which carries 28 points, and means that—even though it does not elevate the crime to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison — offenders are still much more likely to do jail time because, in Florida, someone with an offense greater than 44 points “scores” prison time (according to sentencing guidelines provided by the Florida State Attorney’s Office). In doing so, it provides prosecutors with a lot more leverage to send more people to prison, because if a judge decides not to sentence someone with more than 44 points to prison, they have to provide their reasoning for departing from the guidelines.
Counties Can Go Even Further
Still, the law does not prevent Florida counties from taking things one step further. For example, almost three years ago, Marion County enacted an ordinance called “Molly’s Law,” which requires animal abusers to join a registry listing offenders, whereby they are barred from both owning and living with animals for as long as they are on the list. Anyone who violates the law can be fined up to $500.
Contact Our Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys with Questions
If you have been charged with animal abuse, it is extremely important—now more than ever—to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to ensure that your rights are protected and that you do not face excessive jail time or fines, or end up on a registry for the rest of your life. Contact our Florida criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm to find out more.