Federal Criminal Code Chapter 3 - Animals, Birds, Fish and Plants

Only recently, President Donald Trump signed a bill that officially made animal cruelty a federal crime. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) has decriminalized both the distribution and creation of “animal crushing” videos and the actual act of subjecting any mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, or amphibians to extreme physical abuse and trauma. 

While this can be considered a huge step forward for animal rights, this is just one of the many initiatives under Federal Criminal Code Chapter 3. In this section, several laws have been created to protect non-human living things, such as animals and plants. The security it offers to both animals and plants is significantly greater compared to most state-level laws. For instance, the only herb that is ever mentioned or acknowledged by California's penal code is marijuana and no statute seems to outlaw the act of filming animal abuse -- only the act of abuse itself.

In Federal Criminal Code Chapter 3, there are seven subdivisions for different crimes involving animals and plants:

    • Hunting, fishing, and trapping; disturbance or injury on wildlife refuges (Section 41) - This section makes it illegal to hunt, trap, capture, or wilfully disturb or kill any specie of wild animal or take and/or disturb the eggs or nest of any bird or fish that are within wildlife reserves protected by the United States except otherwise it is in compliance with the rules and regulations allowed by authority of law.
  • Importation or shipment of injurious mammals, birds, fish (including mollusks and crustacea), amphibia, and reptiles (Section 42) - Any creature that is declared dangerous to human beings by the Secretary of the Interior shall not be imported to the United States. Furthermore, this section also makes it illegal to knowingly transport any creature under inhumane or unhealthy conditions to the territory of the United States.
  • Force, violence, and threats involving animal enterprise (Section 43) - In this section, it is unlawful for anyone to interfere with and/or damage any property (such as documents and animals) used by an animal enterprise. Likewise, it is illegal to deliberately cause serious bodily injury or reasonable fear of death to a person while damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.
    • Transportation of water hyacinths (Section 46) - To knowingly deliver, receive, transport, sell, purchase, barter, exchange, or give alligator grass, water chestnut grass or water hyacinth plants and/or the seeds of such plants is prohibited.
  • Use of aircraft or motor vehicles to hunt certain wild horses or burros; pollution of water holes (Section 47) - As stated in this section, it is illegal to use an aircraft of motor vehicle to capture or kill any wild unbranded horse, mare, colt or burro on any public land or ranges. Likewise, it is illegal to pollute any watering hole of any public land or ranges for the purpose of capturing or killing any of the aforementioned animals.
    • Animal crushing (Section 48) - It is unlawful for a person to participate in animal crushing, whether it be creating or distributing animal crushing videos.
  • Enforcement of animal fighting prohibitions (Section 49) - The general statement of this law states that it shall be unlawful to violate subsection (a)(1), (b), (c), or (d) of section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act.


Take note that a violation of any of the sections listed above will be a federal offense. Meaning, your case will be handled by a federal district court rather than a state court. For instance, if you commit a federal crime under Federal Criminal Code Chapter 3 in California or any other state, you will nevertheless face the same consequences as stated in the specific sections.

With that said, the penalties for each section vary greatly. See the complete list below:

Section 41, 42, 46, and 47 penalties:

  • Fines, and/or
  • Imprisonment for not more than 6 months.

Section 43 penalties:

  • Fines, and/or
  • Either 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years imprisonment.

Section 48 penalties:

  • Fines, and/or
  • Imprisonment for not more than 7 years.

Section 49 penalties:

  • Fines, and/or
  • Either 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years imprisonment.

Need Legal Help?

In the unfortunate event that you are accused of either hunting wildlife refugees, importing injurious animals or non-injurious animals under inhumane conditions, disturbing or damaging animal enterprises, transporting water hyacinths, polluting water holes, or engaging in animal crushing or fighting in California, we urge you to immediately call us for help. These are all federal crimes that involve serious legal consequences. Often, only highly-skilled and well-seasoned criminal defense attorneys are capable of handling these cases -- which we have just for you.

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