Goat rustling is now a felony
Monday, March 14, 2005
Goat rustlers, watch out: You now face tougher sentences under state law
By RACHEL LA CORTE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NAPAVINE -- Angel isn't your average goat. The 5-year-old white Saanen doe has won numerous state awards and is worth well over $3,000.
But in the state of Washington, she isn't considered livestock, and if someone tried to steal the prize show and dairy goat off Pat Hendrickson's Napavine farm they'd only face misdemeanor charges.
Under bills before the House and Senate, goats would finally get the respect Hendrickson said is long overdue. And goat owners could be assured that thieves would face harsher penalties for stealing the animals, which can range in value from $100 to $16,000.
"For years and years, goats have always been the brunt of jokes," said Hendrickson, who's got nearly 40 goats on her farm. "They're not a $5 tin-can eating animal anymore."
Since the state doesn't designate goats as livestock, theft of them is usually only a misdemeanor, while theft of official livestock -- such as horses, mules, pigs or sheep -- is a felony.
Livestock thieves are charged according to their motives. If the theft was done with intention to sell or exchange the animal, the culprit faces first-degree theft, which is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and $20,000 in fines. If they steal it to keep -- or eat -- for themselves, the charges are slightly less, and they face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
But as the law stands now, goats are only considered property, and the punishment depends solely on their worth. The bills before the Legislature don't create a new law, they just designate goats as livestock and add them to the current livestock theft law.
"Right now if someone were to steal a $1,600 goat, they'd spend zero to 90 days in jail," said Joseph Wheeler, senior deputy prosecuting attorney in Thurston County. "With this law, they'd get at least three to nine months, assuming they have no criminal history."
If the culprit had a record, they'd face even more time, Wheeler said.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, first sponsored the bill last year after a constituent had several of her goats stolen, only to see the perpetrator get off with a slap on the wrist. The bill died last year, but versions already have passed both the House and the Senate this session. Gov. Christine Gregoire has not yet taken a position on the proposal.
As of Jan. 1, the state had 22,500 goats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's agricultural statistics service in Olympia. In 1997, there were 15,992.
The highest concentration of goats is found in Yakima County, which has more than 3,100. Yakima County has less than a dozen goat theft cases a year, said David Thompson, chief criminal deputy for the Yakima County Sheriff's Office.