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Impact of New Mexico Supreme Court
Ruling Regarding Animal Cruelty Law

Updated July 2001

On March 11, 1999 the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a decision regarding New Mexico's animal cruelty law.  Those involved in passing the felony animal cruelty bill were unaware that a decision involving wildlife and the animal cruelty statute was imminent in the Supreme Court at that time.  The Court overturned a lower appeals court ruling on a case involving cruelty against wildlife (specifically deer).  

The case involved a Charles Cleve who snared deer on his Chaves County property and was charged with several things, cruelty to animals being one of them.  The local District Attorney’s office prosecuted the original case and won.  The case was appealed, and in September 1997 the appeals court upheld the ruling against Cleve.   Finally, the case was appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, and in March 1999 the Supreme Court overturned the ruling on the cruelty charges, saying that New Mexico's game laws supersede the animal cruelty law with respect to cruelty against wildlife. 

The bottom line is, the court ruled that the old animal cruelty law, which was repealed in July 1999, does not apply to wildlife (unless the wildlife are captive). 

How does this affect the prosecution of animal cruelty, now that New Mexico had a new law which took effect in July 1999?  No one is certain until a case of wildlife cruelty is actually heard in court under the new law.

But in the meantime, APNM’s position is that while the Supreme Court ruling (case law) may apply to the old animal cruelty law, it does not apply to the new law Governor Johnson signed in April 1999.  Perhaps most importantly, the new law specifically exempts "insects and reptiles", so it can be argued that the legislative intent is clearly to have the law apply to all other kinds of species, wild and domestic. 

APNM will continue to advise people in New Mexico to document and report animal cruelty, regardless of who the victim is (wild or domestic).  APNM agrees with the lower court ruling which stated that the general animal cruelty law was "intended to control human conduct with respect to how animals are treated."   We are hopeful that if and when a case of wildlife cruelty is heard in court under the new animal cruelty law, the court will determine that the new law applies to both wild and domestic animals.  In our opinion, to rule otherwise is to ignore the legislative intent and the actual language of the law.

So, please tell people to continue to document cruelty to wildlife AND domestic animals, and to get these cases to their local District Attorney.


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