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Releasing animals – harmless prank or punishable crime?

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Livestock and poultry are kept to produce various products, while pets serve as companions to their owners. Humans domesticate animals for a variety of purposes.

But some might find keeping animals cruel and could attempt to free the animals from captivity. Others might think it would be a great prank to let their neighbor’s pets or livestock roam free.

Whether for purportedly environmental or humorous reasons, releasing animals without their owners’ consent is a crime in Virginia.

Unauthorized release is prohibited

Per Virginia law, it’s a crime to intentionally release an animal confined for agricultural, commercial, educational or research purposes without the owner’s consent and with the intent to impede such lawful purpose. This offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The penalties for unauthorized release

A person convicted of unauthorized release of animals will face up to 12 months of confinement in jail or as much as $2,500 in fines – or both. This is the same penalty levied on those convicted of petit larceny and domestic violence.

No matter how noble a person’s intentions are for setting free captive animals, the act is still a crime in Virginia. Recklessly freeing animals from captivity can also cause more harm than help. This is especially true if the released creatures are invasive species that could upset the ecological balance of the immediate environment.

Those facing charges should carefully consider their legal options for their court hearing because a possible jail sentence awaits them.


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