Judges Don't Have To Like A Law In Order To Enforce It

September 23, 1990|By James G. Clark

One of the disadvantages of living near any big city such as Baltimore or Washington is that the public often comes to no longer be shocked by apparent injustices.

We, in Carroll County, are fortunate to be just far enough away to not allow "big city" politics. Or, are we?

With the opening of a new school year, Judge Francis Arnold's decision to find the two Schisler brothers not guilty of animal cruelty should provide a provocative topic of discussion for young, inquiring minds learning about justice and following the law of the land.

One lesson would be to consider how extremely difficult it is to know when something has been "proven beyond the shadow of a doubt." I dare suggest that the only way to truly know is for the judge to be there when the act in question is committed. Since few crimes are witnessed by a judge, sufficient evidence is needed to support any accusation before convicting anyone as guilty.

In reference to the Sept. 2 Carroll County Sun article, "Two brothers found not guilty of animal cruelty charges," involving the Schisler brothers of Marston's farm operation: the Maryland State Cruelty Code specifically states that cruelty has occurred whenever anyone "unnecessarily fails to provide the animal with nutritious food, insufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air."

Because the farm operation in question was video taped, Arnold could see for him self whether the animals were malnourished or sickly. Coupled with expert testimony by the veterinarian, animal-control officers and sheriff's deputies who had a warrant for the Schislers, it should have been apparent whether the animals were treated cruelly or not according to the law.

Arnold had even said himself, "Between the two days of trial, I have probably heard the best arguments for becoming a vegetarian that I've heard in a long time."

With the advent of video tape allowing the judge to almost "be there" at the scene of the crime to determine if any laws have been violated, I cannot understand the judge's reasoning, leading to the not guilty verdict.

The Carroll County Sun's article reported that a number of other cattle dealers testified that they keep their animals under the same conditions as the Schislers do.

With a video tape of the Schisler farm, Arnold should have been able to see the validity of the evidence for himself and then determine where those conditions fall under the written law for cruelty fo animals. But, it appears to me, that his reasoning for his verdict was based upon the testimony of what other cattle dealers across the state did on their farms and not based on the law.

How is it that any judge can determine that laws are second only to common practices?

Hearing testimony by others who operate the same way should not affect the law. If enough people no longer follow the law, possibly the law is outdated and needs to be changed. But, a judge's duty to the citizens is to uphold the law as it stands, not as it might be changed to accommodate the judge's wishes.

As for the other ranchers who follow the same common practices as the Schislers, may the Humane Societies where they live have them arrested.

Maybe their judges will be more concerned for what the law says than the opinion of others.

Noteworthy in questioning the judge's decision is that by finding the Schislers not guilty, their operation cannot be monitored by the Humane Society, whereas a verdict of a year's probation would have let the Humane Society officers continue to see if animal cruelty was occurring or not. If the situation was as horrible as Arnold indicated, then a year's probation verdict would have both made sense and indicated to the public that even if the evidence against the Schislers was not "beyond the shadow of a doubt," that their animals would be protected in the future against cruelty.

Now the Schisler are free to continue their operation without almost any fear of punishment should they choose to not feed or water their animals sufficiently or provide them with needed veterinary care. If they are not doing anything wrong, then they do not have anything to hide. And, if they are guilty of being cruel to animals, what good are our laws if no one is allowed to check on their operation? Right now, only if a citizen files a complaint can the officers investigate these farmers.

Although many people now recognize the value of a pet dog or cat as a valuable family member, I still hear many people express views indicating that they consider farm animals to be simply machines used in a business. The fact that farm animals are also alive and thus require food, and when ill, medical attention to stop the pain, has no meaning for those people; that the animal's importance is only in how much money it is worth. I am hopeful that Arnold did not base his decision on attitude, but the lack of a year's probation makes me suspicious.

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