Chapter 3, Citations – Summons – Warrants – Arrests is a compilation of the basic definitions of crime classifications in North Carolina, procedures for warrants, summons and civil actions that can be taken to protect animals. This short section is a very brief introduction to state definitions of crime and some basic criminal justice terms. You have the responsibility to enforce law while respecting the rights of the people and you will also bear the burden of proof. It is important at the very least to understand terminology and basic legal concepts.
What is a Crime A crime is any act or omission that violates a law which results in a punishment. Infractions An infraction is the least serious offense in our criminal justice system. These types of offenses may result in a fine but jail time is assessed. Examples of infractions are minor traffic violations such as not wearing a seat belt. Some animal ordinance violations are specifically stated as infractions. The Duplin County animal ordinance is very specific and repetitive in that violations of the animal ordinance are infractions.
Classification of Crimes Crimes are classified as Felonies and Misdemeanors. The bulk of an animal officer’s crimes investigated will be in the misdemeanor category. Felonies require the assistance of your local law enforcement agency.
A Misdemeanor is a lessor crime generally resulting in a fine or relatively short imprisonment sentence.
Felonies are more serious crimes resulting in imprisonment up to life and in the case of a capital crime, execution.
North Carolina enacted a Structured Sentencing Act which provides clear guidelines for punishment of a crime. Judges consider previous convictions along with aggravating (increases guilt) and mitigating (reduces guilt) circumstances to arrive at a fair sentence.
Elements of Crime Crimes are composed of 3 basic elements (more elements and exceptions exist but that is for the experts) of which the prosecution (you) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal elements are set forth in the criminal statutes. Every crime has at least three elements: a criminal act, also called actus reus; a criminal intent, also called mens rea; and the concurrence of the two.
The term conduct is often used to reflect the criminal act and intent elements. Ensure you possess the elements that would conclude to you and the courts a violation of a statute or your local ordinance has occurred.
Let's use an example in identifying the elements. After identifying elements you will need to obtain the evidence. You have the burden of proof.
§14-361.1. Abandonment of animals. Any person being the owner or possessor, or having charge or custody of an animal, who willfullyandwithout justifiable excuseabandons the animal is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Establish: The person is one of the following: Owner Can you obtain a receipt of purchase, redemption from a shelter, microchip registration, rabies certificate, etc? Is there a witness that can testify the animal has been owned by this person? Possessor Can you prove the animal resides on the property of a possessor? Charge or Custody Both terms are very similar in definition meaning charge and control of an item of property. Can you prove the person in question has/had the ability to make decisions regarding the animal? This could be an animal caregiver such as a neighbor left to care for an animal, an animal facility, etc,. Willfully Can you prove the act was willful? This element is very subjective and largely depends on the context. Willfully generally signifies a sense of the deliberate as opposed to the unplanned and the voluntary opposed to being compelled. Will you be able to prove the person in question had the intent to abandon the animal? Justifiable Excuse A “justifiable” excuse is ultimately determined by the judge hearing the case. Each court is different. Many a case has been lost by a defense of the “justifiable” excuse. As most people can communicate easily these days, willfully not contacting someone to care for an animal undermines a defense case. Abandon To intentionally and permanently give up, surrender, leave, desert, or relinquish all interest in an animal (property).
Due Process Due process is a constitutional right guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments: The 5th Amendment provides due process rights to citizens: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, withoutdue process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The 14th Amendment (Section 1) provides all states afford due process to citizens: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Due process legal procedures must give notice, be fair and followed for each individual to ensure against prejudicial or unequal treatment.
Ownership interest in animals affords the owners due process rights in connection with exercising ownership. This generally includes a right to a notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to any governmental action or taking. Citizens have the right to be put on notice that his/her conduct is criminal. Violators may be issued an animal notice or warning or other notice stating the nature of the violation and its’ authority (State law or local ordinance violation). Most animal ordinances include a process of warnings or abatement orders informing of the violation.
Probable Cause Probable Cause is used to describe acts involving factual and practical considerations of everyday life. Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which the officer has reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed. Essentially, probable cause means reasonable grounds.
Criminal vs. Civil Criminal violations are considered offenses against the state, or society as a whole. Criminal law violations are prosecuted by the state (District Attorney) who files charges against the accused (defendant) as a representative of the state.
Civil offenses deal with disputes between one private entity and another. A civil case begins when a plaintiff (prosecution) claims that another person or entity (defendant) failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff constituting an injury or loss. Some examples are personal and injuries, breach of contract or slander.
A significant distinction between civil and criminal cases is the burden of proof necessary to provide for a conviction.
Criminal cases require a higher standard of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the crime was committed by the defendant.
Civil cases are dependent on a preponderance of evidence which based on convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy. An example of one clearly knowledgeable witness may provide a preponderance of evidence over a dozen witnesses with hazy or speculative testimony, or a signed agreement with definite terms.
Civil cases may involve animal custody, death or injury to an animal, animal bites and other situations involving private parties and damages. As a government officer you will rarely be involved in a civil case. If you receive a request to participate in any civil case you should immediately contact your supervisor or legal counsel for your jurisdiction. Criminal offenses and civil offenses are generally different in terms of their punishment. As discussed earlier, criminal cases will have jail time as a potential punishment, whereas civil cases generally only result in monetary damages or orders to do or not do something. Note that a criminal case may involve both jail time and monetary punishments in the form of fines.
Watch this short video explaining reasonable doubt and burden of proof.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the period of time after which no prosecution can be initiated.
Misdemeanor crimes have a two year statute of limitations; except in the case of some malicious misdemeanors. A malicious misdemeanor is one committed with malice and a bad motive. If you have evidence a misdemeanor crime occurred within the two year time period, charges may be filed. After that time period charges may not be filed.
Felony crimes have no statute of limitation in North Carolina.
§ 14-4 Violation of local ordinance misdemeanor.
Violation of a local ordinance may be charged as a misdemeanor. However, most local ordinance enforcement is in the nature of a penalty, or fine. If a violator is charged criminally for an ordinance violation the same burdens apply as any other criminal case would. Most jurisdictions enforce animal ordinances as a civil violation and impose penalties. Some agencies have charged chronic, or serious violators criminally when penalties and fees have failed to correct a situation.
Citation Civil ordinance violations requiring a penalty be issued are commonly termed “citations”. Only a sworn law enforcement officer may issue a criminal citation requiring the recipient to appear in court. Civil citations may be issued by non sworn personnel. In either case they would follow the contents described in this statute:
Violation – Citing the section of ordinance/law
Identify the animal(s)
Penalty and time period in which to pay
If failing to sign, the officer may state this on the citation.
Criminal Summons A Criminal Summons is used to direct the accused to appear in court for an alleged crime. Summons can be used when there is not a need for a speedy resolve. Failures to vaccinate against rabies or chronic violation of the animal ordinance are a few examples to summon a violator to court. If the person summoned does not appear contempt of court charges may be filed by the court.
Search and Seizure Search and Seizure warrants have been mentioned throughout this section. The search and seizure process directs a sworn law enforcement officer to search a specific area for specific items connected to a specific crime. Animal officers who are not sworn often assist the officer in the search. In most occasions your warrant will include animals, animal paraphernalia and accessories. In the case of large search and seizure operations, humane organizations may be called in to assist. The planned seizure of large numbers of animals and items requires planning and expert resources that most North Carolina jurisdictions do not have. Application for a search and seizure warrant is presented to the magistrate, a clerk of court or judge. Some jurisdictions allow a non sworn officer to apply for the warrant, others will not. In either case only a sworn officer may execute the warrant (execute). The applicant (you) must provide your probable cause to the official. If your probable cause is adequate a search and seizure warrant will be issued.
The search and seizure warrant must be executed by a sworn officer within 48 hours of its’ issuance. If this does not occur, the warrant must be returned as “Not Executed” to the clerk of court. A copy of the warrant is provided to the person who is to be searched or who is apparently in control of the premise. A written account of all items seized must be listed on theInventory of Items Seized Pursuant to Search. A copy of the inventory is also provided to the person and to the issuing official.
After the search and seizure is performed the evidence collected must be protected following the Chain of Custody. We will briefly discuss the Chain of Custody in the Investigations section. Watch this video of a search and seizure of a breeding operation. Visualize seizing each animal, providing evidence of the living conditions, the accessories and other evidence that is to be listed on the Inventory.
Criminal summons, arrest warrants and other judicial forms are found at the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. These are easily obtained at the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
North Carolina Laws - Animal Control - Animal Protection - Public Health