Cockfighting laws

By Jonathan Griffin | Vol . 22, No. 1 / January 2014

NCSL NewsDid you know?

  • Nevada became the most recent state to make cockfighting a felony in June 2013.
  • More than 100 people each year are arrested for cockfighting in the Los Angeles area.
  • A New Orleans man was arrested in August for possession of more than 700 roosters intended for cockfighting purposes.

Cockfighting, one of the world’s oldest spectator sports, has occurred since the beginning of recorded time. In today’s culture, the word is used for high school and college athletic team names and a cock is the mascot of a popular English soccer team. Cockfighting has been the subject of movies and was featured in an episode of the popular television show “Seinfeld.” Critics of cockfighting point to the brutality of the sport and treatment of the animals bred to fight. Cockfights often end with the death of one of the competitors, and many involve spurs that are attached to the cock’s feet. Critics also note that cockfighting often is tied to illegal gambling activities, and that the birds typically are given illegal drugs to increase their fighting ability and stamina.

In 2013, cockfighting arrests were made in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and Oregon, among other jurisdictions. Oregon’s bust made national headlines when it was discovered a Romanian princess was among those indicted.s

Federal Action

The Animal Welfare Act of 1996 (AWA) was amended in 2002 to make it a misdemeanor to ship, exhibit or sponsor birds for fighting. The 2002 amendments were changed again in 2007, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act (AFPRA). The law not only increased the penalty for animal fighting violations under the AWA from a misdemeanor to a felony, but also made it illegal to “knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument attached, or designed or intended to be attached, to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.” The 2008 Farm Bill further increased penalties for animal fighting or possession of animal fighting instruments to three to five years in prison, and also increased the fines for AWA violations.

In 2013, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (AFSPA) was introduced in Congress. The bill’s intent is to punish those who knowingly attend or take a minor to an animal fight. Violators would face a one-year prison term, and those who take a minor would face a term of up to three years.

State Action

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states; Louisiana’s cockfighting ban, passed in 2007, is the most recent. Cockfighting also is illegal in the District of Columbia, but remains legal in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although cockfighting is illegal in all states, punishment varies. In 13 states—Alabama, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia—a first offense charge of cockfighting is a misdemeanor. In Louisiana and New Mexico, second or third offenses may be prosecuted as felonies; courts in California have the option to decide whether subsequent offenses are felonies.

Although all states ban cockfighting, some states go further by prohibiting ancillary activities such as possessing cocks or implements for cockfighting and attending cockfighting events. Thirty-one states permit possession of cockfighting implements, and 12—Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah—allow possession of a fighting cock, even though cockfighting is illegal.

States are taking action to increase penalties for cockfighting and to increase the scope of prohibited actions related to cockfighting. In 2013, cockfighting bills were introduced in 15 states. Nebraska and Nevada enacted laws to increase penalties for cockfighting. Indiana reclassified its penalties for cockfighting as part of a general reclassification of penalties for criminal actions. Of the 13 states where a first offense of cockfighting is a misdemeanor, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah introduced legislation that would increase the penalty for cockfighting to a felony; all have either failed or remain pending poultry.

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