In November 2019, President Trump signed a bipartisan bill, known as The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, making cruelty to animals a federal crime. This Act bans the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impalement, or other serious harm to animals, making it a federal crime to do so.
Although certain types of animal abuse, such as dog fighting and “crush videos,” were previously illegal under federal law, the majority of animal abuse laws were previously only covered under state statutes, and not federal law. Many of the state statutes had varying definitions and punishments for crushing and animal cruelty. The PACT Act creates a federal criminal statute to encompass a wide range of animal cruelty that was previously only covered under state statutes.
“Although most states imposed their own statutes prohibiting animal cruelty, there was never a corresponding federal statute,” criminal defense attorney Matthew Wilson of Matthew Wilson Attorney at Law explained. “Making animal abuse a federal crime is a major step in defining our values as a country.”
The PACT Act is important for more reasons than simply making animal cruelty a federal crime. Certain heinous acts, such as “crushing videos,” in which a puppy or small animal such as a hamster is crushed to death for the titillation of viewers, was already a federal crime under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act banned the creation and distribution of this specific type of animal torture video in 2010, meaning that if an animal was intentionally crushed, but not for the purpose of creating or distributing a “crush video,” that cruelty was not covered under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act.
However, the PACT Act goes beyond The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act by banning the underlying animal cruelty contained in these types of videos. For instance, the PACT Act prohibits animal crushing, regardless of whether the Act is filmed or used for a crush video. The act joins a similar federal law, the Animal Welfare Act, which pertains to animal fighting, puppy mills, and the treatment of animals in entertainment and scientific research. The PACT Act also more broadly defines the term “animal” on a federal level than what was spelled out by the AWA. Specifically, the PACT Act defines an animal as one or more non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians in the context of “animal crushing”.
There are some notable exceptions to the act of animal crushing and depictions of it as mentioned in the PACT Act. The Act notes that the new law may not apply in specific situations. This includes exceptions in some cases of hunting, medical research, or distributing an animal crush video to a law enforcement agency in good faith.
Since the PACT Act makes animal cruelty a federal crime, the likelihood of additional crimes being persecuted at that level is high. The PACT Act imposes penalties of fines or up to 7 years in prison for those who violate the law. What’s more, individuals prosecuted at this level will be kept in a national database, rather than at a state or local level.