Animal welfare groups have criticised a two-week jail sentence imposed against a man who killed 406 wedge-tailed eagles in Victoria, Australia, as too lenient.
The farmhand was sentenced in the magistrates court after pleading guilty to poisoning the birds and hiding their carcases over a two-year period. He was jailed for 14 days, fined $2,500 for the destruction of protected wildlife, and the 59-year-old will also be deported back to New Zealand after his release.
It is the first time anyone has been jailed for that offence in Victoria.
But the Humane Society International said the sentence was out of step with public outrage over the killings. Spokesman Evan Quartermaine said the sentence amounted to less than an hour of time served and just a $6 fine per eagle killed.
Wedge-tailed eagles were gazetted as notable wildlife in Victoria in 1998. The maximum penalty for killing notable wildlife is 12 months jail and a $190,000 fine.The maximum penalty for hunting, destroying or taking notable wildlife under the Victorian Wildlife Act is six months jail and an $8,000 fine, with an additional $800 fine payable for every head of animal killed. In this case, that would bring the penalty to more than $330,000.
However, sentencing is rarely a simple mathematical exercise. As stated in the book Animals, Welfare and the Law ("AWL"): "It is not uncommon for people to read about a media-reported penalty and subsequently provide an extensive personal opinion on the shortcomings and ineffectiveness of the applied penalty - despite the fact that they have little or no idea about law, the full facts (beyond what is frequently a very abridged version of reported events), or the wider circumstances attached to the offending. This behaviour isn't restricted to individuals - politicians, organisations and a host of others are notably very quick to point to what they perceive as failings in respect of inadequate penalties-in absence of the full facts".
In the section dealing with animal welfare sentences, AWL goes on to state "While penalties naturally carry a deterrent effect, a practical sting of the penalty is often the non-official penalty that attaches to being on the receiving end charges. The time, worry and money attached to defending criminal charges can be enormous. Sometimes it takes years for dramatic come to Court,...oft-times, there is a stigma attached to people who have been publicly identified as guilty of criminal offences involving an animal"
You can read more about this incident, the purposes and principles of sentencing, and understand that there's more to a criminal penalty than simply the incarceration and attached monetary amount the next time you read a media report, by checking out the links below.