Desmond’s Law: Imprecise Language Makes for Inadequate Advocacy
In 2016, Connecticut was lauded for becoming the first state to pass legislation allowing for an animal advocate to be appointed in animal cruelty cases. The legislation, called “Desmond’s Law,” was named for a boxer-pit bull mix that was abused and strangled to death by Alex Wullaert in Branford, Connecticut. Desmond’s body was found in a trash bag in the woods, emaciated, bruised, and starved. Wullaert received accelerated rehabilitation, which meant that his charges were dismissed and his record was wiped clean. In response to Wullaert’s sentence, animal activists, calling themselves “Desmond’s Army,” rallied for animals to have a voice in court.
News outlets have reported that Connecticut’s new law is similar to laws that appoint attorneys for the children and the infirm. National Public Radio, for example, expressed that Connecticut is “the first state to provide animals with court-appointed advocates to represent them in abuse and cruelty cases, similar to laws that provide for victims’ or children’s advocates.” Similarly, The New York Times described the law appointing “advocates for dogs and cats” as part of “a rising movement in the criminal justice system” that “has placed an emphasis on giving more of a voice to and adding support for crime victims,” such as “in cases involving children and the infirm.”
However, Desmond’s Law differs significantly from the laws that appoint advocates for children and vulnerable victims. Unlike those laws, advocates under Desmond’s Law do not represent the animal. According to the statute’s text, the advocate, who is a volunteer attorney or supervised law student, may “present information or recommendations to the court pertinent to determinations that relate to the interests of justice.”
This Article examines why lawmakers chose to word the statute to protect the “interests of justice” rather than the animal’s interests and will argue that it was motivated by the historical underpinnings of the animal rights movement. While Desmond’s Law is an important first step in protecting animal welfare, this Article also explores the real drawbacks that the wording will present in animal cruelty cases.