|Landseer, Laying Down The Law, 1840|
Yet animals have not always been free from prosecution. In the middle ages there were occasional court cases involving animals as defendants. Even insects would be given fair warning before being put to death:
... the slugs were warned three times to cease from vexing the people by corroding and consuming the herbs of the fields and the vines, and to depart ...
And attorneys in search of fame often began their careers defending the defenseless animals. For example, in Autun, France in 1510 an attorney used some excellent lawyering skills to rescue some wayward rats from the death sentence who were accussed of destroying the peasant's fields of barley:
The bishop ordered a trial of the offending rats. The court appointed lawyer for the rats, Bartholomew Chassenee used every procedural argument he could to delay the trial... First he argued that no one knew which rats were eating the barley and since no one owned the rats, the rats had no notice of the proceedings.
To resolve these issues, the judge ordered local priests to announce, from their pulpits, that all the rats in their respective parishes had to appear for trial on a specific day. But as no rats showed up at the appointed time, were the rats were in contempt of court?
Chasseness, grand defense counsel for the rats, defended his clients' absence by noting a law that stated that no one could be ordered into court if making the journey to the courthouse put one's life in danger. To make it to court the rats had to pass through an area filled with cats which would clearly place their lives in jeopardy. Since no safe passage could be secured for the rats, the case was never further prosecuted.
Although the new Tampa Bay Animal Court won't be trying those rats in your attic nor your favorite golden retriever for mauling those fancy Italian shoes of yours (no Sancho! Noooooooo!), the Judge is willing to dispense neighborly advice about letting sleeping dogs lie, especially since we don't want our dogs charged with perjury.
Interestingly enough press reports note that the Animal Judge (hope he's not a real bear in court) has found that cats rarely cause enough problems for their owners to be hauled into court - no wonder you cat people think so much of yourselves.
The modern trend if for courts to become more specialized such as the Clearwater Drug Court in Pinellas that handles only drug cases with an aim of reducing harsh drug punishment to resolve the underlying drug addiction problems. The new Animal Court handles only misdemeanor cases including animal nuisance, so don't let that mutt of yours bite your favorite Clearwater Criminal Attorney.