Not Saussure

December 21, 2006

A sentencing exercise

Filed under: Law — notsaussure @ 12:56 am

Via The Magistrate’s Blog , a sentencing problem:

Paws the Cat
The victim in the case: died from heart attack after being put in washing machine

A woman killed a cat by putting it in a washing machine after arguing with her boyfriend, a court has heard.
Diane Hannon, 42, from Old Colwyn, Conwy, put the deaf cat, called Paws, on a full cycle after an argument with her boyfriend, who owned the pet.
The six-year-old cat suffered a heart attack, severe burns and loss of fur.
Hannon admitted causing unnecessary suffering and cruelly ill-treating an animal and was warned by Llandudno magistrates that she may face jail.
Her sentencing has been adjourned for reports until 10 January.

Further details of the case on the BBC site.

The Magistrate, Bystander JP, gives the law on the matter (he thinks it’s the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which now carries a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine, six months in prison, or both.

What sentence do people recommend? There’s a lengthy discussion going on there, particularly interesting because several magistrates are participating and are giving their reasons.

Putting aside my immediate reaction that crucifixion is probably too good for her, I think it has to be a short custodial sentence unless the pre-sentence report gives particularly good reasons for doing something else. That’s partly because I recalled that a woman in Norfolk was given six weeks last year for killing a cat in very similar circumstances, but mostly because I think that if this degree of cruelty to an animal doesn’t merit custody, albeit not for very long, then I can’t imagine what would. But others in the discussion give powerful reasons for suspending the sentence and giving her a community service punishment instead. Life ban from keeping animals, certainly.

Any ideas, anyone?

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  1. Hanging because it is a deterrent?

    Comment by Bob — December 21, 2006 @ 11:51 am

  2. 6 weeks is about right. It sets the tone of real punishment for the offence.

    Comment by cityunslicker — December 21, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

  3. 6 months and a £5K fine (and then hanging?) As I sit here surrounded by cats and dog, it occurs to me that I’m probably not sufficiently rational to answer this…

    Comment by archrights — December 21, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

  4. An OBE.

    The two cats that own my house and treat me with even more disdain than my fellow bloggers have ponced off me for ten years. A washing machine is too good for them!

    Comment by David Duff — December 21, 2006 @ 4:34 pm

  5. I stand by my comment on Bystander’s site – whatever she’d’ve got if she’d destroyed a valuable item of his property to upset him.

    Comment by john b — December 21, 2006 @ 5:25 pm

  6. Some more thoughts, some of which I’ve also posted to Bystander’s site:

    Cats aren’t sentient. Their instincts and reflexes lead them to perform gestures and acts that we perceived as similar to those performed by sentient humans, but it’s ultimately no different from watching a robot programmed to imitate human gestures.

    They’re also not very intelligent even for animals – well below dogs and pigs, and no cleverer than cows. The reason we perceive them as being ‘haughty’ or ‘aloof’ is because they don’t have the mental capacity for pack behaviour that dogs or even sheep can exhibit.

    NB I quite like cats, grew up in a house with one which I sometimes fed [note: the rest of the time other family members fed it] and never tortured, and would happily share a house with one again if a girlfriend or flatmate was willing to take on primary cat-caring responsibility.

    I also quite like pigs, would happily own one [although probably not share a house with one] in similar circumstances, but wouldn’t want a pig-killer to be jailed…

    Comment by john b — December 21, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

  7. But John, your views on whether or not there should be a law on cruelty to animals don’t really come into it; the courts have to administer the law as it is rather than as they might think it should be. And they find themselves sentencing Ms Hannon not for criminal damage — which carries a maximum penalty of a £2,500 fine or 3 months or both when dealt with as a summary offence — but for cruelty to animals, which gives them greater sentencing powers and a different set of aggravating features.

    The question isn’t really, ‘how does this crime compare with that one?’ (otherwise you’d find yourself trying to decide how much you had to steal from someone for it to be as bad as breaking his arm) but ‘how serious is it of its type?’ — and, since she’s being sentenced for cruelty to animals rather than damage to property, the degree of cruelty inflicted is, to my mind, a major consideration.

    In any case, I’m not at all sure I accept your comparison with criminal damage; are you saying that, if had been her own cat she’d put in the washing machine, there shouldn’t be any penalty (since it’s no crime, under most circumstances, to damage your own property)?

    Comment by notsaussure — December 21, 2006 @ 7:30 pm

  8. Cats aren’t sentient.

    Is there anything to back that up? I’d say that they’re definitely sentient, perhaps even sapient at some low level.

    6 weeks sounds good to me, along with some kind of prohibition against her owning animals in future. Perhaps psychiatric evaluation would also be in order – I don’t know anyone who’d put a cat in a washing machine, no matter how angry they were.

    Comment by Matt M — December 21, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

  9. Thinking about ‘how serious is it of its type’, I guess I’d want to know whether this would be the same charge you’d get for cruelty to multiple animals.

    It like sounds pretty severe cruelty to me so I would think a fairly stiff sentence — but not the top end since this seems to be a single instance of cruelty, rather than sustained cruelty over an period — if the offense applies only to cruelty to a single animal, but if this charge has to encompass people who do animal cruelty en mass (and you don’t get charaged multiple times for each animal for instance) then a much lower one.

    Also doing it to upset someone else would be an aggravating factor in my mind, since I tend to think that trying to deter and shutdown potential feuds is a very big part of the reason for having a justice system. I can see that might be a quirky interpretation tho’.

    Comment by Skapusniak — December 21, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

  10. . . . I would recommend putting Ms Hannon in the washing machine at the hottest, fastest cycle . . .

    But that would be wrong, very wrong. My emotions are running way with me, just as hers did.

    I totally agree with Matt M. Six weeks and a psychiatric evaluation.
    No matter how angry you are with your lover, you don’t do this unless you have some significant psychological problems. The rest of us would’ve cut up his clothes, she chose to torture his cat. She claims she didn’t know it would kill him, what the hell did she think would happen? He’d be a bit burned and he’d learn his lesson?

    A definite life ban on keeping pets, but how do you ensure this?

    God, I feel like a Daily Mail reader, baying for custodial sentences, but this was just loathesome. That poor poor cat.

    Comment by nmj — December 21, 2006 @ 9:14 pm

  11. It is hard to be objective here as a cat owner. If someone deliberately put my cat in a washing machine and killed it in such a horrible way, I’d want that person to be crucified.

    However, more rationally, I’d opt for a short custodial sentence of no more than three months and a whopping fine with a ban on owning pets. Matt’s idea of psychiatric evaluation seems sensible too. The punishment should be harsh enough to discourage cruelty to animals and show that the Law takes this sort of crime seriously.

    Comment by netherworld — December 21, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

  12. 5 years in clink.

    Comment by Jeremycj — December 21, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  13. Sorry – link now corrected

    Comment by Jeremycj — December 21, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  14. NS – I don’t believe there should be any difference between the way society treats breaking someone’s telly and breaking someone’s cat; the attachment someone has to their cat should be used as a basis for valuation. The law, wrongly in my opinion, disagrees.

    In this context the maximum sentence for animal cruelty is 6 months. Angrily putting a cat in a washer would seem to be towards the bottom of the scale – the suffering was very short-term, inflicted on only one animal, and inflicted remotely rather than sadistically (ie she pressed a button rather than ripping the thing apart) and there’s no premeditation – so even under the law as it stands I’d be reluctant to put the woman in jail.

    Matt – if you’re going to claim that animals are sentient, I think the burden of proof is probably on you…

    Comment by john b — December 22, 2006 @ 11:28 am

  15. John b,

    Surely, given that their action are entirely consistent with sentience, the onus is on you to prove otherwise?

    Comment by Matt M — December 22, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  16. In answer to Skapusniak’s question, as far as I know — I’m hardly an expert on this, though — the same charge would be used in all cases of animal cruelty unless there was another law that could also be used (Bystander mentioned a very imaginative piece of charging in this context at the start of the year).

    In other words, your reasoning is, I think, spot on. However angry or disgusted one is with this particular example, it isn’t as aggravated an example as organising dogfights for money, or gross neglect of a whole herd of animals.

    John B, I don’t understand quite what you mean by ‘sentience’ in this respect. Clearly mammals, at least, can feel pain, hunger, thirst and so on. At least they’ve got the sensory apparatus for it and give every indication that they do. They may not be able to feel dread of impending death, but they certainly know when something hurts them or when they’re scared.

    And I’m still not happy about your treating this as a property offence, rather as if she’d damaged a painting of a cat which had great sentimental or monetary value.

    Are you really saying that, as far as you’re concerned, there should be no ban on people putting cats in washing machines so long as the cat and the washing machine both belong to them (or if they have the owner’s permission)?

    Comment by notsaussure — December 23, 2006 @ 12:26 am

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