Criminal Law - Federal

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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 being 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 and this blood sport serves as the framework for illegal gambling rings.

States Laws and Penalties for Cockfighting

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

Possessing a bird for the purpose of cockfighting is prohibited in the District of Columbia and 39 states. Attending a cockfight as a spectator is a crime in District of Columbia and 43 states.

Federal Laws and Penalties for Cockfighting

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) recognized animal fighting as a federal crime. It was later amended by the Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act, making the offense of 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 cockfighting. The penalties for these offenses have increased including 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 North Marianas 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 the territories. Residents of these territories have voiced their concerns with the federal government banning the practice. In 2019, the Puerto Rican government has signed legislation to try to keep cockfighting legal, which remains unresolved.

Native American Reservations and Cockfighting

Under the Indian Country Crimes Act, the general laws of the United States pertaining to criminal offenses do extend to Indian country, making cockfights or owning birds for fighting illegal. This was reaffirmed in a federal court decision.

Crimes Associated with Cockfighting

Spectators and rooster owners alike use these fights to unlawfully wage bets on the fights. Cockfighting rings are often associated with a number of other offenses such as:

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

Animal cruelty charges are often associated with cockfighting. Roosters have been bred for aggression and suffer inhumane treatment such as being given illegal performance enhancing drugs or poor living conditions. People often outfit birds with gaffs or steal blades to slash each other. The Humane Society, the ASPCA as well as other animal rights groups have advocated to have cockfighting count as a form of animal abuse, and a number of states include these charges for people charged with cockfighting offenses.