Now that you have a little background, let’s proceed to the environment of today’s animal services officer.
Authorities are provided from the State to counties and cities. The animal officer’s authority is provided from your jurisdiction and stated in local ordinances. Full awareness of your authority and limitations is vital. A good rule of thumb is to never exceed your authority. If in doubt, speak to a supervisor.
State legislation or state laws are termed statutes.
Statutes provide counties and cities the authority, within parameters, to enactordinances generally and for specific matters. In our case it is animals and your local animal ordinances. Statutes may also limit authorities.
Counties are typically governed by a Board of Commissioners, cities by Councils, Commissioners or other titles.
Counties and cities enact ordinances following a process of meetings, public hearings and voting, similar to the General Assembly process. Ordinances arelocal laws which address a subject(s) within a specific area. Our case again is about animals in your jurisdiction.
Statutes and ordinances are subject to additions, deletions or changes. Changes are termed amendments. A deletion is termed as being repealed. Almost all animal related statutes regarding animals and authorities have been amended, changed or deleted. Animal ordinances may not be changed for years, may be replaced (repealed) and a new ordinance enacted. It is very important you also maintain a working knowledge of amendments, repeals and additions to animal and related law.
County and City boards enact ordinances following a structure authorized by the State. If/when an ordinance passes it becomes local law in its’ territory (jurisdiction). Ordinances may build upon state statutes and may require a level of conduct more stringent than statutory law but never less stringent.
The official power to make legal decisions and judgments
Subject matter jurisdiction
The official power to make legal decisions and judgments regarding a specific matter.
The official power to make legal decisions and judgments in a defined area.
Animal officers will typically have subject matter and territorial jurisdiction; however many do not have the power of arrest unless they are sworn law enforcement officers. Statutes specifically state counties and cities “may” not “shall” enact ordinances. Enactment of an animal ordinance is an option not a directive. Language such as “shall”, “must”, “may” and other directives are very important when interpreting and enforcing law. Unless it is stated in the ordinance a violation of an ordinance is in violation of state law. Read GS 14-4. PG17 Most ordinances impose penalties for violations. The officer may have the authority to fine (penalize) and/or pursue criminal actions. Most officers will issue a fine (citation) for lesser violations and/or meet with the District Attorney to discuss criminal actions.
The District Attorney is the legal counsel for your jurisdiction.
Well written ordinances will provide you with a process concerning citations and criminal actions.
Read §15A-302. Citation. pg 10
Example: Cumberland County Animal Ordinance process; nuisance animal violation fine:
Notice of violation. When an animal control officer determines that a violation of this section has occurred, he may issue a written warning of violation and notice of public nuisance, which shall be served on the owner or keeper of the animal. The owner or keeper shall be responsible for abating the nuisance within 24 hours by making sure his animal does not engage in any further act or acts which may constitute a nuisance under this section.
Failure to abate the nuisance. If the animal control officer determines that the animal has engaged in any further act(s) constituting a nuisance, or if the owner or keeper of the animal fails to abate the condition which constitutes the nuisance within 24 hours after issuance of the written warning of violation, the animal control officer may issue a notice of violation and civil penalty for the first offense and additional penalties for each subsequent offense. If the owner fails to abate the nuisance after the first civil penalty, the animal control officer may seize and impound the animal. If the animal is seized, the animal control officer must post a notice of seizure and impoundment with the owner or keeper of the animal. The owner or keeper may reclaim the animal upon payment of any civil penalties and shelter fees or charges for the impoundment. If the animal is not reclaimed within five days, it shall become the property of the animal control department and shall be disposed of according to the department's policies.
Note the text, “may and shall”.
The Cumberland County ordinance process; criminal action: In addition to the civil penalties prescribed in this section, any violation of this chapter, also designated as chapter 3 of the Cumberland County Code, shall also constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine or not more than $200.00 and imprisonment of not more than 20 days.