Sunday, June 27, 2010
For the Love of Cats
Sometimes the struggle between the liberty of the poor on one hand, and order on the other, can be poignant. State of South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats is such a case. It pits Patricia Edwards against Pierre police officer named Jandt and the power of the State of South Dakota. Jandt found Patricia Edwards living in a car in a convenience store parking lot with fifteen cats. The officer impounded them. The State tried to get Jandt's action confirmed in Circuit Court and won. Edwards appealed without a lawyer. She lost in South Dakota's Supreme Court by a 3-2 vote. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice David E. Gilbertson. He was joined by Justices John J. Konenkamp and Steven L. Zinter. Konenkamp wrote an additional concurrence joined by Zinter. Justice Glen A. Severson wrote a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Judith K. Meierhenry. The three issues in the case were: (1) whether Jandt violated Edwards's rights when Jandt impounded the cats; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence to sustain the order ratifying the impoundment of Edwards's cats; (3) Whether Edwards’s rights to due process of law were denied by the lack of adequate notice of the hearings in this matter. The majority said that Edwards had not preserved error as to the first and third issues and that there was no plain error. They also said that the impoundment was justified by exigent circumstances: that the cats blocked Edwards's view through her back window and almost caused an auto accident and that the car was dirty. They also said Edwards was not prejudiced by oral rather than written findings, that the circuit court's findings were not clearly erroneous. The dissent found that under the statute in this case- South Dakota's animal abuse or mistreatment law- the cop should have gotten a court order before impounding the cats and that the evidence supporting the judgment was insufficient because the cats were fine.