Full Case Name:  Stephens v. State

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Country of Origin:  United States Court Name:  Supreme Court of Mississippi Primary Citation:  Stephans v. State, 3 So. 458 (Miss. 1887) (Arnold J. plurality). Date of Decision:  Monday, January 30, 1888 Judge Name:  Judge Arnold Jurisdiction Level:  Mississippi Judges:  Judge Arnold Attorneys:  W.S. Chapman, J.T. Lowe, T.M. Miller.

The Mississippi Cruelty to Animal statute was applied to the Defendant who killed several hogs that were eating his crops.  The lower court refused to instruct the Jury that they should find him not guilty, if they believed that he killed the hogs while depredating on his crop and to protect it, and not out of a spirit of cruelty to the animals.  The Supreme Court of Mississippi found it to be an error by the court to refuse to give such instructions because if the defendant was not actuated by a spirit of cruelty, or a disposition to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, he was not guilty under the statute.



( Supreme Court of Mississippi.  January 30, 1888.)




Under Code Miss. Section 2918, forbidding cruelty to animals, defendant was indicted for killing hogs trespassing on his land after he had vainly tried to drive them away.  Held error to refuse to charge the jury that if defendant killed the hogs while they were ravaging his crop, in order to protect the crops, and not from a spirit of cruelty, they should find him not guilty.


Appeal from circuit court, Yalobuaha county; W. S. FEATHERSTON, Judge.


Dave Stephens was indicted for cruelty to animals.  The testimony shows that a neighbor's hogs got into Stephens' crop; that Stephens went to the owner of the hogs, who assisted him in getting them out of his field; that the hogs broke into his field again, when he again went to their owner and asked his assistance in getting them out, but the owner refused to do so.  Stephens then tried to get the hogs out; but after running them for some time, and failing to get them out, he got his gun and killed several of the hogs.  On the trial he offered to prove that he had a lawful fence around his field, which the court refused.  He then asked the court to instruct the jury that if the evidence showed that he killed the hogs to protect his crop, etc., and not out of a spirit of cruelty to the hogs, they should acquit him.  The court refused this instruction, judgement was rendered against him, and he appeals.


W.S. Chapman and J.T. Lowe, for appellant.  T.M. Miller , Atty. Gen., for the State.


ARNOLD, J.  Section 2918 of the Code, under which appellant was indicted, renders it a criminal offense for any person to cruelly beat, abuse, starve, torture, or purposely injure, certain animals, whether they belong to himself or another.  This statute is for the benefit off animals, as creatures capable of feeling and suffering, and it was intended to protect them from cruelty, without reference to their being property, or to the damages which might thereby be occasioned to their owners.  It was an error for the court below to refuse to instruct the jury for appellant, to the effect that they should find him not guilty, if they believed from the evidence that he killed the hogs while they were depredating on his crop, and to protect it from destruction, and not out of a spirit of cruelty to the animals.  Such instruction was applicable to the evidence, and expounded the law correctly.  It was immaterial whether appellant had a lawful fence or not.  The motive with which the act was done is the test as to whether it was criminal or not.  Unless appellant was actuated by a spirit of cruelty, or a disposition to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on the animals, he was not guilty of the offense charged.  He may have committed a trespass for which he is liable in a civil suit, but if his purpose and intent was to protect his crop from depredation, he did not violate the statute under which he was indicted.  1 Bish. St. Crimes, sections 594, 597; Wright v. State , 30 Ga. 325; State v. Waters , 6 Jones, (N. C.) 276; Thomas v. State , 30 Ark. 433; Lott v. State , 9 Tex. App. 206.


This disposes of the case at bar; but, speaking for myself, I wish to say that laws, and the enforcement or observance of laws, for the protection of dumb brutes from cruelty, are, in my judgment, among the best evidences of the justice and benevolence of men.  Such statutes were not intended to interfere, and do not interfere, with the necessary discipline and government of such animals, or place any unreasonable restriction on their use or the enjoyment to be derived from their possession.  The common law recognized no rights in such animals, and punished no cruelty to them, except in so far as it affected the rights of individuals to such property.  Such statutes  remedy this defect, and exhibit the spirit of that divine law which is so mindful of dumb brutes as to teach and command, not to muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn; not to plow with an ox and an ass together; not too take the bird that sitteth on its young or its eggs; and not to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.  To disregard the rights and feelings of equals, is unjust and ungenerous, but to willfully or wantonly injure or oppress the weak and helpless, is mean and cowardly.  Human beings have at least some means of protecting themselves against the inhumanity of man, - that inhumanity which “makes countless thousands mourn,” – but dumb brutes have none.  Cruelty to them manifests a vicious and degraded nature, and it tends inevitably to cruelty to men.  Animals whose lives are devoted to our use and pleasure, and which are capable, perhaps of feeding as great physical pain or pleasure as which are capable, perhaps, of feeling as great physical pain or pleasure as ourselves, deserve, for these considerations alone, kindly treatment.  The dominion of man over them, if not a moral trust, has a better significance than the development of malignant passions and cruel instincts.  Often their beauty, gentleness, and fidelity suggest the reflection that it may have been one of the purposes of their creation and subordination to enlarge the sympathies and expand the better feelings of our race.  But, however this may be, human beings should be kind and just to dumb brutes; if for no other reason than to learn how to be kind and just to each other.


The judgment is reversed, and the cause remanded.

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