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October 18, 2010

Minnesota Cat Shooter's Conviction Upheld

Claiming the cat was a stray does not excuse the crime

  • Whether or not they are "owned," cats are protected under Minnesota's animal cruelty statute. iStockphoto

After being convicted last year of felony animal cruelty for shooting Sauki, the pet cat of his eleven-year-old neighbor, Ajalon Corcoran appealed his conviction. His defense team argued that although he had indeed shot the cat, his belief that the cat was a stray precluded a felony conviction.
 
In State of Minnesota v. Ajalon Thomas Corcoran (Minnesota Court of Appeals, released Sept. 14, 2010), the court agreed with Assistant County Attorney O'Laughlin and the lower court that it is indeed felony animal cruelty to shoot a cat whether or not the defendant knows the cat is a pet.  
 
Under Minnesota's animal cruelty statute (Minn. Stat. 343.21), a person who unjustifiably injures, maims, mutilates, or kills an animal is guilty of a misdemeanor. If the person intentionally violates the misdemeanor provision and it results in death or great bodily harm to a pet or companion animal, the offense is elevated to a felony. O'Laughlin appropriately charged Corcoran with felony animal cruelty.
 
Before the appellate court, Corcoran argued that in order to be convicted of felony animal cruelty, the state was required to prove that he knew at the time of the shooting that the animal he killed was a pet or companion animal. The state argued otherwise. The appellate court rejected the defendant's argument and affirmed the district court's ruling. The opinion found that the plain language of Minnesota's animal cruelty statute does not require that the accused know that the animal being killed is a pet. It also noted that the statute's requirement that the killing be unjustifiable provides a procedural safeguard to legal hunting.
 
This ruling is extremely important for the protection of all companion animals. As noted by Assistant County Attorney O’Laughlin, "Pets are members of people's families. If the court had held that prosecutors were required to prove that an accused knew the animal was a pet in order for there to be felony consequences, it would have been very difficult to obtain justice in certain pet-killing cases."
 
Thank you to Assistant County Attorney O'Laughlin for standing up for all companion animals who are cruelly treated, and our congratulations on this important legal victory.

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