Effective August 1, 2018, The New Jersey Legislature adopted two new criminal statutes to punish dog fighting and encouraging dog fighting networks. The first statute, “2C:33-31 Crime of Dog Fighting; Penalties”, reads as follows:
a. A person is guilty of dog fighting if that person knowingly:
(1) keeps, uses, is connected with or interested in the management of, or receives money for the admission of a person to, a place kept or used for the purpose of fighting or baiting a dog;
(2) owns, possesses, keeps, trains, promotes, purchases, breeds or sells a dog for the purpose of fighting or baiting that dog;
(3) for amusement or gain, causes, allows, or permits the fighting or baiting of a dog;
(4) permits or suffers a place owned or controlled by that person to be used for the purpose of fighting or baiting a dog;
(5) is present and witnesses, pays admission to, encourages or assists in the fighting or baiting of a dog; or
(6) gambles on the outcome of a fight involving a dog.
Dog fighting is a crime of the third degree.
The wording of this statute is ambiguous and will require creativity to save from constitutional attack. To criminalize merely “being interested in the management of “dog fighting or baiting” appears to penalize thought crimes. It is akin to punishing merely thinking about committing a crime as opposed to taking any affirmative steps towards attempting an offense.
It is unclear what is meant by “baiting” as opposed to “fighting”. A reasonable interpretation of “baiting” would be encouraging a dog to fight. However, encouraging a dog to fight would be part and parcel to dog fighting or attempted dog fighting. Thus, the penalty for “baiting” would be the same as fighting and the use of the term “baiting” would be superfluous.
There are also constitutional issues with merely “allowing” dog fighting as it implies that citizens have a duty to intervene and take matters into their own hands to prevent dog fighting. An effort to save this portion of the statute appears to have been made by requiring the allowing party to be shown to be acting for their own “amusement.” Proving “amusement” creates its own complicated issues.
It is unclear how a person’s “suffering” a place that they own to be used for dog fighting is distinct from “permitting” that place to be used for dog fighting. Lastly, criminalizing the mere “witnessing” of dog fighting is subject to constitutional attack since it does not make an exception for a passerby that happens to witness dog fighting without any prior reason to know that they would come across the dog fight. Also, the use of the term “being present” is superfluous as one can not witness unless they are present.