A plan is moving forward to allow animals that have been the victims of animal abuse to be represented in court so that their abusers will face appropriate punishment.

“The legislation calls for giving attorneys and law students the ability to serve on a volunteer basis as a legal advocate for the animal in court,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, the sponsor of the bill.

She said the advocates' responsibilities would include monitoring the case, attending hearings and reviewing records relating to the condition of the animal and the defendant’s actions. The advocate would present information or recommendations to the court that relates to the best interest of the animal.

"This is a program to make sure that animals that are abused have justice," Quijano said.

“Many animal cruelty cases in New Jersey and across the country end without a trial or a conviction. These pets are facing unthinkable abuse and they need to have an advocate in their corner.”

She pointed out another reason to get tough on animal abusers is because many organizations, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, believe people who hurt animals are more likely to go on to hurt people.

“For many people the family pet is another family member, and when a pet is abused, that pet should have justice.”

The proposal comes after New Jersey shifted animal-abuse investigations and enforcement from the independent Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals organizations to county prosecutors.

Quijano's measure is modeled after a Connecticut statute known as Desmond’s Law, passed after an accused animal abuser received no jail time.

The legislation has been formally introduced but so far has not been assigned to a specific legislative committee for review.

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