The Supreme Judicial Court today dismissed a teenager's conviction for causing "serious bodily harm" to a friend's dog, ruling that the phrase "serious bodily harm" in state juvenile laws is only intended for cases involving people.
The then 14-year-old had been charged in 2015 with ramming a soap dispenser in a dog's vagina, causing serious internal injuries that required surgery (the court notes that the dog survived).
The Suffolk County District Attorney's office sought to use the state's "youthful offender" law against the teen, rather than the "delinquency" law because the former allows for the potential of time in a jail or prison for a serious enough offense, while teens judged delinquent are only supposed to get rehabilitative care in the custody of DYS. The court said prosecutors could retry the teen as being delinquent.
Although the law does not specifically limit the use of the term "serious bodily injury" to people, the court said it clearly was limited that way, because the legislature has always "directly and unambiguously" written specific laws related to animal cruelty, so laws that don't mention animals are not meant for incidents involving them.
The Commonwealth has not pointed to any Massachusetts statute, and we have not found any in our review, that has ever been interpreted to cover animals where the statutory language did not include the word "animal" or a specific type of animal. Had the Legislature intended the general criminal statutes to protect animals, it need not have enacted animal cruelty laws at all. ...
By and large the statutes that prohibit the infliction of serious bodily injury apply only to human beings
The court also noted that the current youthful-offender law, passed in 1996, was spurred by a 13-year-old killing a woman, not anything having to do with an animal.
The justices continued:
We do not discount the seriousness of the extremely disturbing allegations against the juvenile; they raise grave concerns about the juvenile's mental health. Nor do we wish to downplay the suffering the dog went through during and after the attack. ...
Although the juvenile will not be treated as an adult and face criminal penalties, the Commonwealth certainly may proceed by way of a complaint for delinquency in the Juvenile Court, where the flexibility to order mental health treatment exists.