New Mexico cockfighting ban challenged in federal court
19 / JUNIO / 2009
Seattle Pet Laws ExaminerJean-Pierre Ruiz
Early last month, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the state’s law banning cockfighting. Less than a week later, New Mexico’s cockfighters, lead by the New Mexico Gamefowl Association, filed a $77M class-action lawsuit in Federal District Court in Las Cruces (NM). The suit alleges that the state’s criminalization of cockfighting violates the cockfighters’ civil rights.
In 2007, New Mexico became the 49th state to enact a law which made cockfighting illegal (Louisiana became the last in 2008). Amendments to Section 38-19-01 eliminated Subsection K excepting cockfighting from the definition of animal cruelty. Moreover, the amendment to Section 38-19-9 created a criminal penalty for anyone convicted of cockfighting.
Law enforcement officials believe that cockfighting continues unabated due to the fact that it is considered to be a misdemeanor. Moreover, officials believe that New Mexico cockfights attract gamblers and spectators from the four out five neighbor states where the practice is a felony.
Shortly after Governor Richardson signed the law into effect, cockfighting proponents filed suit in the state’s court. The trial court rejected the challenge and upheld the bans on all grounds ruling both that the Plaintiffs lacked standing and that the challenged statute was constitutional. The proponents of cockfighting argued that 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the American-Mexican war, conferred a “cultural” right to engage in cockfighting. The Plaintiffs alleged a right under Article II, Section 5 of the Treaty which states:
“[t]he rights, privileges and immunities, civil, political and religious guaranteed to the people of New Mexico by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo shall be preserved inviolate.”
The Plaintiffs alleged that cockfighting was part of the cultural heritage under Mexican law and such was meant to be recognized by the Treaty. After a very thorough review of the Treaty and associated materials, the Court rejected the argument and deemed the amendments making cockfighting a criminal endeavor constitutional.
In cockfighting, roosters are bred and trained to fight in an arena for the purpose of entertaining (?) the spectators. Tens of thousands of dollars are reportedly gambled during the fights. The birds are equipped with gaffs, 3- to 6-inch long, curved steel implements, sharp as a razor blade, designed to inflict severe injuries. The birds are also injected with a variety of drugs which “enhance” their aggressive nature, and allow them to fight longer. Fights can last from less than half-a-minute to half-an-hour and, most often end, with the death of one, or both of the birds. Common injuries include punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes. Often, if the losing bird is not killed outright in the arena, its owner feels embarrassed and ashamed and will either abandon the bird for it to die slowly of its injuries, or slam it against the ground or wall to kill it. In addition to illegal gambling, firearms and other weapons are reportedly common at cockfights. Moreover, law enforcement officials have documented a strong connection between cockfighting and the distribution of illegal drugs, often learning of illegal cockfights as a result of a narcotics investigation. According to the Humane Society of the United States, cockfighting attracts a wide variety of participants, including upper middle-class and wealthy individuals, in numerous environments, including well-to-do neighborhoods.
The New Mexico law makes cockfighting a misdemeanor (a felony for a 3rd or subsequent offense). Possession of the birds for cockfighting is also a misdemeanor. However, it is still legal to be a spectator or to possess cockfighting paraphernalia.
For more info: .N.M.S.A 1978, Section 30-18-1 to -9: ; Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo:www.mexica.net/guadhida.html; Court of Appeals decision:http://coa.nmcourts.gov/documents/opinions/NM Gamefowl Ass’n FO.pdf.