Theft of Pets in Utah

Theft of pets are on the rise in Utah and many residents are inquiring what the laws are regarding stealing someone else’s companion animal.

Pets are property

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Most people that own pets will say their fur-babies are family. According to Utah law however, pets are not children; they are considered property instead. Stealing a pet is not kidnapping or dognapping- it is theft. Theft of property such as a dog, cat, bike, or DVD player is punishable depending on the value of the property. Although pet owners would say it is impossible to put a dollar amount on a pet, many animals were either purchased or adopted for a fee which could be used to determine a monetary amount.

Monetary Value

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Domesticated pets such as small mammals and cats do not have a high monetary value but purebred dogs and specialty or exotic animals can range greatly in price and value. Birds such as large Cockatoos and Macaws can be worth thousands of dollars while purebred dogs can vary from $300 to as much as $14,000 depending on the type of dog, their lineage, and whether or not they come with papers. The punishment for theft of a pet depends on what that animal is worth. According to Utah Code 76-6-412:

• If the value of the pet is less than $500, the dog thief may face class B misdemeanor charges;
• If the pet is worth more than $500 but less than $1,500, it is a class A misdemeanor;
• Theft of a pet valued at more than $1,500 but less than $5,000 is a third degree felony;
• Stealing pricey animals that exceed the monetary value of $5,000 can result in second degree felonies.

These charges are enhanced if the offender has prior offenses related to theft, burglary, or robbery.

Reason for stealing an animal

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The majority of pet thefts occur for the purpose of making a dishonest profit by reselling the animal, however there are other reasons for stealing pets that could result in separate charges.

• Waiting for the reward. Many times when a pet goes missing, the family will offer a reward for the safe return of their furry family member. Some pets are stolen and then given back to the family once the reward is offered. Even if the plan is to return to pet, it is still considered theft or perhaps wrongful appropriation which is punishable one degree lower than theft according to Utah Code 76-6-404.5.

• Relocating a neighbor’s pet. Some pet thefts occur from a disgruntled neighbor getting rid of a nuance animal.There have been cases throughout Utah of animals being stolen and dropped off in remote areas or even let out of a fenced yard. Stealing a pet to abandon it or releasing it on the street could constitute cruelty to animals if the animal is left in what section 76-9-301 states to be a “situation where conditions present an immediate, direct, and serious threat to the life, safety, or health of the animal.” Charges for intentional abandonment of an animal can range from a class C to class B misdemeanor.

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• Fighting dogs. Sadly, some breeds that get a bad rap for being prone to dog aggression are often stolen based on that natural tendency. Pit bulls which are quickly becoming a beloved pet among families also have a history of violence towards other dogs and people if they are treated or raised poorly. This breed is known for being powerful while doing a lot of damage when they do attack and that may be why they are so popular in the illegal dog fighting ring. If dogs are stolen for use in dog fighting, the charges can include theft as well as third degree felony charge for training or causing a dog to fight as stated in Utah Code 76-9-301.1.

Missing or stolen

While there is an uptick of pet thefts throughout Utah, there are also many animals that go missing without any human involvement. Missing pets should be reported to animal control and posted on flyers as well as social media sources to get the word around. If someone truly feels their pet has been stolen, the owner should notify the authorities while also keeping an eye on resale sights such as Craigslist and Facebook yard sale sights. For anyone charged with stealing a pet whether to make a quick buck, get back at a neighbor, or commit another crime involving the pet, it is important to speak to an attorney about the charges prior to admitting fault to police.

Plot to Collect a Debt Ends in Aggravated Robbery and Murder

A plot to collect a debt over the weekend ended in the aggravated robbery and murder of a Utah man.

Hired ruffians

49 year old Tonita Vianay Rico was arrested for aggravated robbery and murder after she hired a couple men to threaten a man that supposedly owed her money. Tonita led the hired men to the apartment of 30 year old TJ Toussaint L’Ourerture Tyler, Jr. after which the two men forced their way into TJ’s home and robbed him. Tonita waited outside only to flee with the two men after the shooting.

Two first degree felonies

Tonita and her hired ruffians when located are facing charges for first degree aggravated murder and first degree aggravated robbery. No details have been released on whether or not Tonita’s hired ruffians took anything from the apartment before or after the shooting however they are still facing the robbery charges.

Aggravated Robbery

According to Utah Code 76-6-301, Robbery is described as when a person “unlawfully and intentionally takes or attempts to take personal property in the possession of another (…) by means of force or fear” or if they “use force or fear of immediate force against another in the course of committing a theft or wrongful appropriation.” The way the two hired men barged through the victim’s door in behalf of an unclaimed debt showed force or fear while attempting to take the owed debt from the victim. The aggravated charges incurred are for the use of a dangerous weapon and for causing serious injuries or death to another.

Who’s to blame?

Each first degree felony that Tonita and her friends will be charged with carries a penalty of five years to life in prison with a fine up to $10,000. A few questions remain unanswered however such as whether or not Tonita knew her friends were armed and if she was on board with the situation escalating the way it did. Even as a backseat participant who didn’t even step food in the apartment however, Tonita is still expected to take responsibility in the aggravated robbery and assault of TJ Toussaint L’Ouverture Tyler Jr.
Those who are facing serious charges or who have gotten mixed up with friends who have made criminal choices are encouraged to seek the guidance of an experienced defense attorney.

Sentencing Guidelines in Utah

Once someone has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a crime, sentencing will soon follow which depends on many factors specific to the case as well as Utah law and the sentencing guidelines stated by the Utah Sentencing Commission.

Lesser offenses

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When someone breaks the law, the crime committed could be a minor offense such as an infraction, a more significant offense like a misdemeanor, or even a serious felony offense. What each crime is classified as along with the possible punishment for breaking that specific law can be found in the Utah State Code. Infractions such as most traffic violations do not result time behind bars, just a monetary fine no greater than $750. Misdemeanors are offenses that are considered worse than infractions, but not as severe as a felony and can result in fines and jail time. According to Utah Courts, a misdemeanor offense is broken down into three categories that include:

• Class C misdemeanors such as driving without registration or negligent cruelty to animals, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750;
• Class B misdemeanors including prostitution and harassment, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000;
• Class A misdemeanors such as stalking and reckless endangerment, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500;

Major offenses

A felony is the most severe of crimes and could result in a fine and prison. Felonies are categorized into four groups:

• Third-degree felonies including habitual wanton destruction of protected wildlife and felony discharge of a firearm with no injuries, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of no more than $5,000;
• Second-degree felonies such as burglary of a dwelling and possession of child pornography which carry possible prison terms of 1 to 15 years in prison and a possible fine of $10,000;
• First-degree felonies for example rape and sodomy on a child, punishable by 5 years to life in prison and a fine no greater than $10,000;
• Capital felonies such as murder can result in either life in prison with or without parole and even the death penalty.

Sentencing guidelines and matrix

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Although many crimes have already been categorized along with appropriate punishment decided by the Utah Legislature, there are many other factors that are taken into account before a judge will decide on a sentence. The Utah Sentencing Commission has issued a manual complete with guidelines and a matrix that can be followed to ensure that sentencing is fair for each specific case. According to the Utah Sentencing Commission Philosophy Statement, “The Sentencing Commission promotes evidence-based sentencing policies that effectively address the three separate goals of criminal sentencing:

• Risk Management [imposing a punishment or penalty that is proportionate to the gravity of the offense and the culpability of the offender.]
• Risk Reduction [appropriate identification and reduction of an offender’s individual criminal risk factors.]
• Restitution [repayment of damages to the community or to victims resulting from an offense]”

According to Utah Courts, the guidelines and matrix designed by the Sentencing Commission takes into account things such as:

• “Aggravating factors” such as significance of injuries and the relationship between the offender and victim;
• Enhanced penalties such as if a deadly weapon is used or if the offender is a repeat offender; and
• “Mitigating factors” that can include the offender’s behavior since the crime or a clinical evaluation on their mental health during the crime.

According to the Utah Sentencing Commission, “Utah law provides the basis for the sentencing and release of criminal offenders. ( . . . ) The guidelines are an attempt to further structure decision-making relative to sentencing and release, yet still retain the flexibility to deal with individual cases.” Use of these guidelines along with the Utah statutes should ensure anyone facing criminal charges is treated fairly and individually. To ensure this, it is best to have legal representation before and during sentencing hearings.