INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that proposed harsher sentences for those who commit animal cruelty in the state of Indiana failed to advance after a Republican-controlled Senate committee voted against the measure last week.
Senate Bill 41, authored by Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis), proposed increasing animal cruelty to a Level 5 felony in Indiana in order to impose harsher sentences on animal torturers and abusers. The bill was spurred to life after the grisly torture and hanging death of a dog adopted from an Indianapolis shelter generated a wave of outrage and media attention.
Senators who voted against the bill, and even some who voted in favor of the bill, pointed out their concern with SB 41 was not in punishing animal cruelty offenders more harshly but in the possible issue of cascading offenses where raising the punishment of one offense would call into question the punishment of others by suddenly putting them on the same level.
Currently, an animal cruelty charge in Indiana is considered a Level 6 felony —the least serious felony designation. Those convicted of a Level 6 felony face an imprisonment sentence that ranges between six months to two and a half years, with an advisory sentence of one year.
Indiana law also allows judges to reduce or convert Level 6 felonies into Class A misdemeanor charges.
By enhancing animal cruelty to a Level 5 felony, those convicted of the crime would have instead faced between one and six years in prison, with an advisory sentence of three years.
During a Feb. 21 session of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, senators heard testimony from animal shelter volunteers and the owner of a dog rescue who were in favor of the bill. The advocates pointed to the connection between violence toward animals leading to violence toward humans along with asked senators to not look at animals as property but as living beings who suffer long-term emotional damage in addition to their physical damage.
A representative from the Indiana Public Defender Council testified in opposition of the bill stating it was an issue of “proportionality.” Senators who voted against the bill later echoed this testimony and the issue of proportionality by pointing out that if animal cruelty was raised to a Level 5 felony it would then be on the same level as crimes such as reckless homicide.
Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) agreed that people who harm animals often go on to harm others, but asked if animal cruelty should share the same level of punishment as reckless homicide or the killing of a woman’s unborn child.
Similar sentiment was echoed by several senators, who worried that by raising this punishment others would then need to be raised in response.
Sen. Rodney Pol (D) voted in favor of the bill but acknowledged the proportionality issue by stating that he didn’t want to see the bill lead to a “cascading” of other offenses.
Ultimately, the bill failed on a 3-4 vote.
Despite SB 41 not advancing to the Senate, the bill’s author Sen. Ford and senators who serve on the committee stated there still could be a path forward for increasing penalties for animal abusers. Senators pointed to House Bill 1306 — which seeks to raise the killing of police dogs to a Level 5 felony — and left open the possibility of further discussion on that bill leading to expanding penalties on aminal cruelty in general, as Ford advocated with SB 41.
House Bill 1306 was referred to the Indiana Senate in January and was passed along to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law for future discussion.
You can follow the bill’s progress here.