Veterinarians as Expert Witnesses
The veterinarian's role in the prosecution of cruelty cases may involve one or more of the following:
- Assisting in determining the identity of the victim, including species and, in some cases, the individual animal.
- Commenting on reasonably prudent actions that could have been taken to prevent disease, injury or death.
- Determining the cause of death and the sequence of injuries and timing of pre-mortem or post-mortem mutilations or other treatment (e.g. hanging, burning or impaling). This may include observations at the scene of the injury as well as necropsy and laboratory analyses.
- Identifying evidence that may link the injuries to a particular suspect. This could include recovery of trace materials (e.g. ligatures, adhesives, wax, paint, flammable substances) and analysis of injuries that might be linked to a unique source, such as stab wounds.
- Distinguishing between death and injury resulting from human vs. non-human causes (e.g. predation) or intentional vs. accidental injury.
- Offering opinions regarding the speed of unconsciousness and/or death and the degree of suffering the victim experienced. This may be necessary to classify a particular maltreatment as "torture", which may be a requirement for classifying the crime as an indictable offense.
In assisting in the prosecution of animal abuse cases, veterinarians may be asked to write a report or provide expert testimony.
Watch for the upcoming book Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty by Leslie Sinclair, Melinda Merck, and Randall Lockwood.
See also Ernest D Olfert, BWR (Byrnne) Rothwell, and Greg LG Harasen: Providing Veterinary Expertise in an Animal Welfare Case, or What the SPCA Inspector Wants When They Call a Veterinarian