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SJC to hear case on search warrants for animals in danger

The state’s highest court is slated to hear arguments Tuesday on whether police can search property without a warrant if they believe animals are in danger, expanding an exception that already applies when people are in danger.

The Supreme Judicial Court is pondering a case, Commonwealth v. Duncan, in which a Lynn woman was charged in April 2011 in Lynn District Court with three counts of animal cruelty. Police responding to her home in January of that year said they could see two dead dogs and a live dog in her yard, so they entered to help the live dog.

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The defense challenged the police entry onto the property — and the evidence it produced, saying police were required to get a warrant first under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office wrote in a brief filed in the case, “The moral standard of this community recognizes animal lives as worthy of reasonable protection in an emergency, justifying the officers’ warrantless entry in this case.”

The defense, in a brief written by attorney Travis J. Jacobs, said such warrantless searches were disallowed by people’s constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Jacobs argued that “Massachusetts courts have consistently viewed animals as property and have long recognized that animals are not protected by the Constitution as are people.”

Animal cruelty laws are “not explicitly concerned with the nature of the acts of cruelty or ‘the right of the animals that are in a sense protected by it,’” Jacobs argued.

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