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Is Cockfighting Legal in the United States?

Cockfighting is one of the earliest recorded spectator sports, dating back centuries. These fights consist of two birds or roosters placed in a small fighting ring, known as a cock pit, to battle until one of the roosters kills the other.

Although cockfights are illegal in all 50 states, the practice still exists in the United States. The blood sport can also serve as the framework for illegal gambling rings. If law enforcement are investigating you for cockfighting, talk to a criminal defense lawyer for legal advice.

State Laws and Penalties for Cockfighting

As of today, cockfighting is illegal in every state across the country. The severity of the offense and the associated penalties vary from state to state. Over 40 states and the District of Columbia consider cockfighting a felony offense.

Possessing a bird for the purpose of cockfighting is prohibited in 39 states and D.C. Attending a cockfight as a spectator is a crime in 43 states and Washington, D.C.

Federal Laws and Penalties for Cockfighting

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) recognizes animal fighting as a federal crime. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act makes animal fighting a felony charge along with criminal charges associated with attending a fight or selling, buying, transporting, or delivering any sharp instruments intended to be used for fighting birds. The penalties for these offenses include up to:

  • One year imprisonment for attending a fight
  • Three years imprisonment for bringing a child under 16 years of age to a fight
  • Five years imprisonment for offenses involving the commerce of instruments used in cockfighting

The Agriculture Improvement Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, increased the priority of enforcing and prosecuting animal fighting charges as well by creating steps and a referral system for the FBI, Department of Agriculture, and other investigative agencies to utilize.

United State Territories and Cockfighting

With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, all animal fighting in every part of the country was banned, including the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands.

However, this has been the subject of controversy as cockfighting has served as part of the culture for a number of these U.S. territories. Some residents of these territories have protested the federal government banning the practice.

Native American Reservations and Cockfighting

Under the Indian Country Crimes Act, the general laws of the United States pertaining to criminal offenses extend to native lands, making cockfights or owning birds for fighting illegal. A federal court decision reaffirmed the ban.

Crimes Associated with Cockfighting

Spectators and rooster owners alike may use these fights for illegal gambling. Cockfighting rings can be associated with other illegal activities, such as:

  • Drug dealing
  • Alcohol-related incidents
  • Property destruction
  • Building code violations
  • Gang activity
  • Illegal weapons
  • Dogfighting
  • Assault, battery, and sometimes even murder

Animal cruelty charges are often also associated with cockfighting operations. Fighting roosters are bred for aggression and can suffer inhumane treatment, including poor living conditions or being injected with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. People often outfit birds with gaffs or steal blades to slash each other.

The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and other animal rights groups have advocated having illegal cockfighting count as a form of animal abuse, and a number of states include these charges for breeders charged with cockfighting offenses.

If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges for violating state or federal cockfighting laws, get advice from a criminal defense attorney in your area.

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