In Georgia recently, a case has come up involving a dog. A pit-bull to be exact. A county in Georgia has filed a petition to have the pit-bull destroyed. Not because it bit anyone, but because they think it might be dangerous. The Judge hearing the case has appointed a lawyer to represent the dog and its owners, who don’t want their pet killed.
Appointing an attorney to represent a dog seems a little out of the ordinary, but certainly within the authority of the court. In this case the interests of the dog in not wanting to be killed for being a dog, and the interests of his owner who don’t want him killed either are the same, so one lawyer can handle both cases.
In the Middle Ages animals were often tried for essentially human crimes. According the Wall Street Journal there’s a book, written in 1906 in which such trials are described in detail.* One case mentioned from that book took place inItalyin 1519. There a bunch of field mice were prosecuted for digging up crops. A lawyer named Hans Grinebner was appointed to defend them. His clients did not take the stand to testify in their own defense.
A more recent case, if you can call 1595 “recent” came fromSouth Africaand is still studied by law students. There, a dog named Provetie was charged with biting a child that was staying at his uncle’s house. Unfortunately, for both the child and Provetie, he was holding a piece of meat in his hand. Provetie, being a dog after all, grabbed the meat and in the process bit the child on the finger “going through the skin to the flesh in such a manner that the blood flowed there from, and the child a few days later died in consequence of fright.” Making it even more odd, the Prosecutor claimed that he “apprehended the said Provetie, all of which appears from the prisoners own confession, made by him without torture or being put in irons.”
Wait a minute here….the dog confessed? Just how did he do that? The Court record doesn’t tell us. It does say the Prosecutor wanted a tough sentence that would serve as an “example to others and more especially to evilly [sic]disposed dogs…”
Five hundred years later this solemn court proceeding with its arcane and stilted language sounds more than a little bit nutty. And it was. The Court rendered a verdict finding Provetie guilty and sentenced him to hang “to the deterring of other dogs.” They also ordered all of his “goods” to be “forfeited” for the benefit of the government. What would that be? His chew toy?
In 1642Massachusettspassed 15 “Capitall Lawes” carrying the death penalty. The second of which said “If any man or woman be a Witch, that is,
hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death.”
In 1810 inEnglandanyone who stole anything worth five shillings [about
$.60] faced a mandatory death sentence.
In 1846 Michigan abolished the death penalty altogether.
*The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals” E.P.Evans