What is Penal Code 597 PC? (Animal Abuse and Cruelty)

There are many laws in California that pertain to the mistreatment of animals.  However, Penal Code 597 PC is the California law that specifically applies to Animal Abuse and Cruelty.  Code Section 597 PC applies to the killing, neglecting, overworking, or physical abuse of an animal.  The types of animals protected under Penal Code 597 PC include wild animals, strays, pets, and even farm animals.

Most cases involving Penal Code 597 arise because a member of the public reported potential animal abuse or cruelty.  In fact, law enforcement agencies encourage such reporting through the use of telephone hot lines.  Many Penal Code 597 PC cases also arise based on the reporting of veterinarians, who are under a legal obligation to report any suspected abuse or cruelty.  Although it does happen, it is rare for someone to be charged with a Penal Code 597 PC violation based solely on the personal observations of a police officer.

California takes animal abuse and cruelty charges very seriously.  In fact, both the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have special law enforcement divisions to handle cases of animal abuse and cruelty.  As a result, prosecutors in these agencies often move forward on animal abuse cases with an overly aggressive attitude.  This results in Penal Code 597 PC charges unfairly and indiscriminately prosecuted.  For this reason, if you are facing Penal Code 597 PC charges, it is important to have an experienced, zealous, and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side.

Legal Definition of Penal Code 597 PC

To be convicted of Penal Code 597 PC, the prosecutor must prove you acted maliciously, intentionally, or cruelly when you committed the act of animal abuse or cruelty.

Penal Code 597 PC treats the definition of “abuse” and “cruelty” very broadly.  This means that the law applies to a wide range of conduct.  You could be convicted of a Penal Code 597 PC violation if you maimed, mutilated, wounded , killed, or tortured an animal.  You may also be liable under Penal Code 597 PC if you neglected an animal by providing inadequate food or shelter.  Remember, you cannot be convicted of a Penal Code 597 violation unless the prosecutor can prove that you committed the abuse negligently, intentionally, or maliciously.

Examples of Penal Code 597 PC Animal Abuse and Cruelty

Since Penal Code 597 PC applies to a wide range of conduct, there are many ways to violate the law.  Thus, Penal Code 597 PC is best understood through examples:

  • Sheldon is an independent contractor who travels for long periods of time for work. As a result, his pets are denied access to adequate food or water, which could constitute animal neglect and a Penal Code 597 PC violation.

  • Sunny maliciously tosses a bunny rabbit out of his car into highway traffic. The rabbit is ran over by oncoming traffic. Note, that intentional nature of Donald’s act makes him liable for a Penal Code 597 PC violation.

  • Donald is an underground sex video producer. He hires a woman to wear high heels and step on small animals for a fetish video he plans on selling.  This is an example of a “crush” video and violates Penal Code 597 PC.

  • James runs a cockfighting ring where gamblers bet money on fights between roosters. Cockfighting, along with dogfighting, is within the purview of Penal Code 597 PC.  However, both dogfighting and cockfighting also have a series of separate laws banning the activity (which is further discussed below).

How to Fight a Penal Code 597 PC Charge?

Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses available to fight a Penal Code 597 PC charge.  An experienced and diligent attorney can review the specific circumstances of your case to devise a legal strategy with the best possible outcome.  The following is a list of the most effective legal defenses for fighting a Penal Code 597 PC charge:

Self Defense/Defense of Others: California’s laws on self-defense applies to humans as well as animals.  This means you can fight a Penal Code 597 PC charge if you killed or injured an animal for the purposes of protecting yourself, another person, or even another animal.  The key in these types of cases is to present evidence that you acted reasonably given the circumstances of the incident. 

Accident:  In California, you can fight a Penal Code 597 PC charge if the animal’s death or injury was an accident.  In other words, the incident was not the result of any intentional plan, cruelty, maliciousness, or gross negligence.

False Accusation: There are a variety of reasons why you might be falsely charged with a Penal Code 597 PC violation.  It could be as simple as a case of mistaken identity.  In addition, it is not uncommon for a person to purposefully accuse another person of animal abuse.  For example, in cases surrounded by a pending divorce, one spouse may falsely accuse the other spouse of a Penal Code 597 PC violation for the purposes of getting a leg up in marital proceedings.  The key in these types of cases is to develop an evidential record showing that you have a history of treating your animals well.  Additionally, it helps to highlight the accuser’s biases or motives.  By conducting a thorough investigation, a zealous criminal defense attorney can help you fight a Penal Code 597 PC charge by exposing the lies and highlighting the truth.

What are the penalties for violating Penal Code 597 PC?

Penal Code 597 PC is considered a “wobbler.”  This means that prosecutors have the discretion to charge Penal Code 597 PC as either a felony or a misdemeanor.  This decision is made based on the specific circumstances of your case and your criminal history.

If charged with a Penal Code 597 PC misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum of $20,000 in fines.

The penalties for a Penal Code 597 PC felony are much more severe.  The felony carries a potential punishment of up to 3 years in a California state prison and/or a $20,000 maximum fine.

In addition to prison time and fines, Penal Code 597 PC convictions (both misdemeanors and felonies) may result in additional consequences, such as mandatory counseling or the animals being permanently removed from your custody.  Furthermore, if the animal abuse involved the use of a deadly weapon, the judge has the option of extending your sentence by an additional year.

Related Crimes to Penal Code 597 PC

Penal Code 597 PC applies generally to animal abuse and cruelty.    However, there are specific subsections contained within Penal Code 597 PC that apply to particular forms of animal abuse or cruelty.


In California, cockfighting is considered a form of animal abuse and cruelty.  Thus, if you are suspected of being involved in cockfighting, prosecutors have the option of charging you with Penal Code 597 PC.  However, California maintains separate laws that specifically prohibit and punish cockfighting.  Therefore, you could be charged with Penal Code 597 PC in addition to specific penal codes designed to prohibit and punish cockfighting.

Penal Codes 597b, 597c, 597i, and 597j all focus on cockfighting.  They specifically prohibit the following: organizing or allowing cockfighting for personal enjoyment or profit; attending or working at a cockfight; manufacturing or distributing any of the weapons (“gaffs”) used during a cockfight; and owning or training a rooster for use during a cockfight.

First-time offenses for cockfighting are usually charged as misdemeanors.  Spectators of cockfighting could be punished with a misdemeanor, up to 6 months in county jail, and up to $1,000 in fines.  If you are suspected of being more than just a spectator, you could be punished with up to 1 year in county jail and fines up to $5,000.

If you already have a conviction for cockfighting, subsequent offenses could be charged as a felony, which carry greater fines and jail time.

It is also important to know that if cockfighting is suspected at a particular place, the police have the power to search and arrest all people present.  They are not constitutionally required to have a warrant to conduct such a search or seizure.


As with cockfighting, dogfighting is governed by Penal Code 597 PC.  As also with cockfighting, dogfighting is also further regulated by specific laws designed to outlaw it.  For example, Penal Code 597.5 PC prohibits the following: possessing or training a dog for the purpose of dogfighting; using a dog to harm another dog in a pre-meditated dogfight; and spectating a dogfighting. 

If found to be a spectator at a dogfight, you are subject to a misdemeanor and could be punished with up to 1 year in county jail and up to $5,000 in fines.  If involved with dogfighting in any other way, then you will be subject to a felony and face up to 3 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.

Leaving an Animal in an Unattended Vehicle

Penal Code 597.7 PC specifically applies to leaving an animal in an unattended car such that the animal’s health is placed in danger.  For example, Penal Code 597.7 PC prohibits leaving an unattended animal in a car during hot weather, cold weather, or without adequate food or water.  Note, that if a police officer observes an animal trapped in a vehicle during dangerous conditions, they are empowered by law to do what is reasonably necessary to save the animal.

If it is your first time being convicted of Penal Code 597.7 PC, you will be subject to only $100 fine.  However, this is the case only if the animal was not significantly harmed.  If the animal is significantly harmed, you could receive up to 6 months in county jail and up to $500 in fines.

If you were previously convicted of Penal Code 597.7 PC, then any subsequent convictions may result in up to 6 months in jail time and up to $500 in fines. 

Note, if you are accused of leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge you with not only Penal Code 597.7 PC but also Penal Code 597 PC.

Sexually Abusing an Animal

California’s Penal Code 285.6 outlaws using an animal for the purpose of sexual gratification (otherwise known as bestiality or zoophillia.) To prove a Penal Code section 285.6 violation, the prosecutor need not prove that the sexual act with an animal was forced or violent.  Any sexual contact with an animal is punishable by Penal Code 285.6 as well as Penal Code 597 PC.

If convicted of Penal Code 285.6, you will be subject to a misdemeanor and up to 6 months in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Other Animal Cruelty Laws

California’s Penal Code covers a wide variety of conduct that it considers animal abuse and cruelty.  For example, Penal Code 596 PC covers the poisoning of animals and Penal Code 597l covers the living conditions for pets sold in stores.  It is important to remember that you can be charged with these specific regulations and Penal Code 597 PC at the same time.  If charged with any form of animal abuse or cruelty, it is imperative that you contact our experienced and knowledgeable criminal attorney immediately.