Why an animal abuser deserves more jail time than a guy who kills someone.


Today I had to turn off the local sports radio station because it pissed me off so much. The discussion went something like this:

Michael Vick abused some dogs and got sent to prison for two years.

JR Smith was recklessly driving and killed a guy and got sent to jail for 30 days.

Therefore, the criminal justice system says dogs > humans.

I’ll admit that I have a pretty low tolerance for listening to people who don’t understand the law talking about the law, especially when they get stupid about it. What these guys, and many people, fail to realize is that the law doesn’t consider only the end result of an action when determining what punishment to impose on the offender.

Way back in the first year of law school when you take criminal law, you learn that the elements of most crimes include two things: the actus reus and the mens rea. The actus reus is, well, as you might have guessed, the act — it’s the objective part, the thing you actually do. If you punch someone in the face, that’s the actus reus.

Mens rea is the subjective, intent part (literally, it means “guilty mind”). Most crimes require some sort of intent (purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently). To be found guilty, a defendant must have committed the act with the specified intent.

(There are some exceptions to this, which are referred to as “strict liability crimes” and for which intent is irrelevant. Statutory rape is an example, which is why “But I thought she was 18!” doesn’t work if you get caught having sex with a 14-year-old.)

The point of this is that, according to the law, people with bad intent are more deserving of punishment than people whose intent is iffy but not so bad. Although it can be very tricky to try to prove what intent a person had when taking an action, I think this makes perfect sense.

JR Smith was guilty of reckless driving and, as a result, his friend died. Yes, this is tragic for all involved. Yes, JR was careless and an idiot. But he didn’t have bad intent. He was reckless, which generally means that he was probably aware that what he was doing was dangerous but did it anyway.

Michael Vick, on the other hand, deliberately engaged in a course of conduct over a number of years (honestly, I don’t remember all the details and I don’t want to go back and look them up because it’ll piss me off even more and who wants that). This deliberate and prolonged course of conduct resulted in the killing and torture of numerous dogs. His intent was just about as bad as you can get, and it was bad for a long time.

So the law isn’t saying that dogs > humans. The law is saying that someone with really bad intent for a really long time is more deserving of punishment than someone who was reckless for a brief period of time. And that makes sense, right? (And this also explains the Madoff sentence.)

And don’t even get me started on the Michael Vick apologists who were calling the show. One guy said something about how people “just didn’t like” Michael Vick. You know what? That’s bullshit. I used to think Michael Vick was the cat’s pajamas. He was exciting to watch and I even had him on my fantasy team for at least one season. But you know what? Animals are my thing and if you abuse animals, I think you suck. Apparently, many other people feel the same way and are still pissed off about Michael Vick. I’m still pissed off about Michael Vick. I’m not pissed off about JR Smith. You know I have a soft spot for the guy, and I think he’s grown up a lot during the past year. And yeah, somebody died, but that doesn’t make JR deserve more time in jail than Michael Vick. It’s all about the intent, baby.