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COA: Animal seizure allowed without warrant

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Police and animal control officers were justified in removing malnourished animals from a property without a warrant, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals today. The court also overturned a Bartholomew County man's convictions of neglect on four dead horses because of lack of evidence they died of neglect.

In Terry Baxter v. State of Indiana, No. 03A04-0710-CR-596, Terry Baxter appealed his convictions of four counts of Class D felony failure to properly dispose of a dead animal, and 12 counts of Class B misdemeanor neglect of an animal.

Baxter argued the statutes criminalizing the improper disposal of a dead animal were unconstitutional, the trial court abused its discretion in allowing animal control to participate in this case with respect to nine living horses seized from his property, that the seizure of those horses violated his rights under the Indiana Constitution, and the court lacked sufficient evidence to support all of his neglect convictions.

After police were notified about the four dead horses on Baxter's grandmother's property by a worker who went there to pick up a propane tank, they went to Baxter's home and saw nine more horses that appeared to be malnourished. They called the Indiana Hooved Animal Humane Society, which removed the horses and placed them in foster care. The horses were in plain sight and removed without a warrant. A veterinarian who examined them found eight of the nine horses were malnourished.

The Court of Appeals ruled the Indiana Code regarding animal disposal was constitutional, clear, and easily understood. The appellate court affirmed Baxter's four convictions of failure to properly dispose of a dead animal, finding he didn't follow Indiana statute for disposal by leaving the decomposing bodies of four horses on his grandmother's property, which is near his property.

It was wholly appropriate for animal control to intervene on this case, wrote Judge Michael Barnes, for the limited purpose of opposing Baxter's request to sell the neglected animals. The trial court followed Indiana Code regarding the termination of Baxter's rights to the animals, awarding custody of the seized animals to a humane society, and ordering Baxter to pay for the cost of caring for the animals during their pre-trial impoundment, wrote the judge.

The seizure of the nine malnourished animals and four dead horses without a warrant didn't violate Baxter's rights under the Indiana Constitution. Citing Trimble v. State, 842 N.E.2d 798 (Ind. 2006), the appellate court found police officers were justified in going to Baxter's home after they received a tip and removing the horses from Baxter's care. The living horses were in plain sight on the property, and in regards to the dead horses, the police didn't go to the grandmother's property until Baxter's son told police they were there, wrote Judge Barnes.

The appellate court affirmed Baxter's convictions on eight counts of neglect of the living horses, but reversed the four convictions of neglect of the dead horses because they were based on mere speculation. Because the animals were already decomposing when they were found, veterinarians were unable to say the horses died as a result of neglect, wrote the judge.
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