Montgomery District Judge William Lane recently threw out charges against more than 500 people who were issued citations after a raid of a cockfighting operation in April. Lane said that the state statute cited by prosecutors which bans attendance at cockfights was ambiguous and could not sustain the charges against those cited.
The problem appears to be with a practice that is quite common and usually drives animal rights activists through the roof. The statute cited as banning cockfighting is quite clear that it is illegal for spectators and vendors to appear,
. . . at an event where a four (4) legged animal is caused to fight for pleasure or profit.
As the judge noted in throwing out the charges, chickens have only two legs. Typically, though, state and federal agencies have a habit of classifying animals for the purposes of law enforcement in ways that defy common sense, such as the USDA’s habit of defining non-bird species as poultry and thereby exempt from certain parts of the Animal Welfare Act. It usually has very good reasons for doing so — namely that Congress hasn’t appropriated it enough funds to actually oversee the care of the redefined animals — but it also goes against common sense. In Kentucky, prosecutors and police seem to be treating chickens as four-legged animals for the purpose of this statute.
The law also contains a highly ambiguous section that exempts “sporting activities,” but does not define that term. Lane noted that common definitions of “sporting activities” could easily encompass cockfighting, and that it is unclear what the legislature meant in that instance.
Michael Endicott, a lawyer representing some of those charged with attending the cockfight, told the Lexington Herald-Leader,
It’s not a very well-written statute. The judge is right. If the legislature wants to make cockfighting illegal, they should spit it out.
Police and prosecutors disagree. A police spokeswoman told the Lexington Herald-Leader,
We respectfully disagree that cockfighting is exempt as a sporting activity according to the statute.
The newspaper reported that prosecutors and police were still deciding whether or not to appeal the decision.
John Goodwin of the Human Society of the United States wants prosecutors to appeal. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader,
This ruling could have huge repercussions across the state. We believe it must be reviewed by a higher court.
Of course the risk there is that a higher court could agree with Lane and instead of having one district judge throwing out charges, the entire statute could be invalidated as far as cockfighting is concerned.
Judge tosses out cruelty charges from cockfight. Peter Mathews, Lexington Herald-Leader, August 16, 2005.