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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank the Lord that South Dakota stopped her, because she was headed back here to Texas. Justice Severson wrote the dissenting opinion, to which Justice Meierhenry concurred. I find it hard to believe that the dissenters would not consider 15 animals roaming loose in a small passenger vehicle to constitute exigent circumstances. I don't care if it is 15 wasps, 15 snakes, 15 dogs, 15 birds, or the 15 cats: having them run loose in a vehicle constitutes a danger to the public and to the animals: the driver's inability to pay attention to the road due to the distraction of the animals as well as their blocking her view of her surroundings constitutes an immediate threat to the welfare of the animals due to the probability of the animals being injured in the course of an accident. The courts do not seem to have seen that particular threat to the animals as constituting the main exigent circumstance, nor does it, unfortunately, seem to have been argued by the State. Instead, they argued about the danger to the public caused by the animal-impaired driving, as well as the less imminent danger to the animals caused by them living in such a limited care environment.

    As far as the "liberty of the poor" is concerned, I am less than sympathetic to the idea that we are free to inflict the sufferings of our mental diseases upon the public or innocent animals. Cat collecting, or hoarding, is well-defined as a mental disorder. Its effects on the animals and eventually on the public, which, one way or another will eventually have to deal with the animals and the mental disorder, are documented in almost every episode of the Animal Planet programs Animal Cop and Animal Precinct. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_hoarding. My sister was a cat hoarder, and she was also destitute and crazier in ways other than just the cat collecting, so I have had to deal with the issue personally.

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