ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
The PA Crimes Code already includes offenses that could be used to charge someone who harms or kills an animal. But HB 940 (PN 1725) creates two new offenses against police animals by eliminating the requirement for intent under 18 Pa. C.S. § 5548:
- HB 940 would prohibit the reckless, but not intentional, injury or death of a police animal, graded as a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in prison; and
- HB 940 would hold a person criminally culpable when a police animal is injured or killed while the person is engaged in the commission of a felony, graded as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Because this provision requires no specific intent to injure or kill a police animal, it effectively functions like the felony murder rule, infering the necessary intent to harm the animal from the intent to commit the underlying felony. In other words, committing the felony would create the recklessness sufficient to establish the intent to hurt the animal.
Furthermore, HB 940 was amended to extend this principle to apply to domestic animals (dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, goats, or pigs) by creating two new sentencing enhancements for those animals who are harmed or killed during the course of a burglary or criminal trespass. The enhancement does not require that the defendant directly or intentionally harmed or killed the animal. All that is required for the enhancement is that something happened while someone was engaged in a burglary or trespassing that resulted in the injury or death of a domestic animal.
These changes are egregious expansions of current law and of the flawed principle of felony murder.
Governor Wolf signed HB 940 into law on July 11, 2022 as Act 60 of 2022.