In this third article of a five-part series on animal cruelty, we will learn what is considered an “unjustified” action in Minnesota.
To prove animal torture or cruelty, the State must provide evidence that shows beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s act, omission or neglect caused or permitted unnecessary or unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death to an animal. Because the act, omission or neglect must have been “unjustifiable” many defendants argue as a defense that their act, which harmed or killed an animal, was justified. The court has not developed a clear standard regarding what constitutes an “unjustifiable” action but has discussed the standard in a number of unpublished cases.
First, in State v. Weber, the Minnesota Court of Appeals resolved the issue of whether the word “unjustified” was unconstitutionally vague. In this case, two neighboring families had a contentious relationship with one another. On the day of the incident, a dog belonging to the Dohrmann family crossed onto property belonging to the Weber family, and allegedly damaged insulation under a mobile home. When the dog approached Mr. Weber, he took out a gun and shot the dog. Mr. Weber’s primary defense was that his actions were justified because the Sheriff told him he could shoot the dog if it was on his property. The Sheriff denied this accusation in his testimony, and Mr. Weber was convicted with unjustly killing the dog under Minnesota Statutes section 343.21.