Deanna Caraballo Almost Got What She Deserves
March 8, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Deanna Caraballo killed a defenseless, fuzzy, little animal, and she got a year in prison:
A Cleveland woman was sentenced to the maximum penalty of one year in prison Monday for killing her boyfriend’s 8-week-old puppy in one of the first cases in Cuyahoga County prosecuted under Goddard’s Law.
It isn’t a particularly alarming sentence, or even one that you’d think would require a law named after someone to achieve. These days, most people just don’t view animals as property, as belongings they can use and abuse however they want. Many people treat their companion animals better than they treat other people, in fact. Casually hurting an animal, especially an adorable little puppy, is taboo. That the law would provide a fairly harsh penalty for that only makes sense. What’s surprising is that all jurisdictions don’t deal with animal killers that way.
In Caraballo’s case, there are some interesting wrinkles, though. She pretty obviously isn’t just being punished for the crime itself. First, she did herself no favors between plea and sentencing:
Deanna Caraballo, 20, pleaded guilty in January to fifth-degree felony cruelty to a companion animal, but didn’t show up to her February sentencing hearing.
Her situation isn’t terribly uncommon. Caraballo was in custody until she pled guilty. The ability to offer someone the possibility of release in exchange for their plea of guilty is a powerful tool in a prosecutor’s arsenal. People in custody are often desperate to get out, and a guilty plea saves a prosecutor a lot of work.
The practice of agreeing to release along with a plea results in a lot of people having to choose between “winning” at trial after spending more time in custody or getting out in exchange for lying about being guilty. Moreover, people who plead guilty to get out frequently aren’t thinking much about coming back after they get out. The practice moves cases, but a lot of defendants do what Caraballo did.
Pleading guilty, getting released, and then not showing up at sentencing, of course, doesn’t make judges happy. It probably didn’t help convince the judge to give Caraballo less than the maximum. Also, the fact she turned herself in might have helped a little, but her lawyer’s explanation that she “was scared of the potential of going back to jail and was having ‘transportation issues’” didn’t help matters. “Transportation issues” always sounds like a lie, and that’s especially true when someone claims to have them in the same breath as they mention they’re scared of jail. Which was it? Most judges view fear of jail as about as crappy an excuse as a person can give for missing court. Adding a lie makes it worse.
The prosecutor had his own potentially misguided comments to offer:
Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Michael Lisk asked Russo to sentence Caraballo to one year in prison during. Lisk later said he hoped the case would set the tone for similar cases in Cuyahoga County.
“I think Goddard’s law is having its intended effect,” Lisk said.
General deterrence, the idea that giving a certain sentence to Caraballo is going to have some sort of impact on others who might otherwise go on to commit the same crime, is pointless in a case like this. It’s ridiculous to even think that other people with hair-trigger tempers and no regard for the lives of cute little animals might be in the midst of an argument and suddenly remember what happened to Caraballo, thinking better of their initial decision to grab the nearest puppy in a murderous rage and kill it by slamming it to the ground.
We can only hope the prosecutor meant to set the tone not in a deterrence sense but in the sense that such cases can result in new, harsher sentences of up to a year, and Caraballo received a sentence within that range. At least he’s right that Goddard’s law is having its intended effect, as it allowed up to a year and that’s what Caraballo got.
Caraballo’s lawyer’s seemingly ineffective comments weren’t limited to her surrender:
Caraballo’s defense attorney, David Kraus, asked the judge to give Caraballo probation, saying she was responding to her abusive boyfriend when the incident happened.
“This woman reacted and unfortunately the animal got in the way,” Kraus said.
Caraballo told the judge she was scared that day.
“I don’t think this was the deplorable…act that the legislature was thinking about when they passed this law,” Kraus said.
There’s probably no way to make an ordinary person understand what Caraballo did, and painting it as her just responding to her abusive boyfriend reveals a serious lack of understanding of the seriousness of the offense from either Caraballo or her lawyer. She murdered a damn puppy. That isn’t a normal thing for an abuse victim to do under any circumstances.
Saying that the animal “got in the way” is basically as bad. Trying to convince someone she is just an abuse victim or someone who was merely scared that day is an almost impossible sell without a lot of corroborating evidence. Furthermore, if violently killing a puppy isn’t the sort of deplorable act that the legislature was thinking about when they passed the law, it’s hard to say what was.
Leave it up to the government to take it a step or two past what good sense would dictate, though:
Earlier this year, Cuyahoga County Council passed legislation requiring those convicted of felony animal abuse to register with the sheriff’s office, which will maintain a public registry of those offenders.
The legislation also prohibits people convicted under Goddard’s Law from having or taking care of a companion animal in the future.
Caraballo probably shouldn’t be allowed to have a dog, and it isn’t like an order to that effect is depriving her of some fundamental right. She’s proven herself unfit to be around helpless little animals. Keeping her away from them for the rest of her life is something she’s likely earned.
Making her appear on a registry, on the other hand, is gratuitous. It might serve to shame her, but the value of that for someone who committed a crime in the heat of passion is debatable. What a registry will certainly do is give judgmental people in the general public with rage problems of their own an outlet for their vitriol.
Caraballo deserved every day she got, as that one-year sentence doesn’t seem out of line considering what she did. It pretty accurately reflects the public’s current level of disapproval of puppycide. The problem is that the circumstances suggest she may have gotten it in part due to her failure to appear and the excuses her lawyer made for it, along with her lawyer’s problematic comments. Any sentence bump she got for those things might be partially her lawyer’s fault. On top of that, in addition to some extra sentencing terms she might deserve, she’s likely to get at least one she doesn’t.
Caraballo provides a pretty good example of how the system often works. It almost got it right. The issue is that it may have been for the wrong reasons and then things went too far.