A Horse! A Horse! My Fourth Amendment Right for a Horse!

In the recent case of State v. Fessenden, the Supreme Court of Oregon held that a police officer did not violate a person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure when the officer entered private property, without a warrant, in order to seize an emaciated horse and take it to a veterinarian for treatment. In upholding the two defendants’ convictions for animal abuse and animal neglect, the court concluded that the officer acted lawfully because he had probable cause to believe the crime of animal neglect was occurring and he reasonably believed immediate action was necessary to prevent further harm to the horse. Acting on a call from the two defendants’ neighbor, the officer had observed the horse on the defendant’s property from the driveway, noticing that “the horse's backbone protruded, her withers stood up, her neck was thin, all of her ribs were visible, she had no visible fatty tissue in her shoulders, and she was ‘swaying a little bit.’” Observance of the horse’s condition, partnered with the belief that acquisition of a warrant to enter the defendants’ property would take between four to eight hours, led the officer to exercise no hesitation in entering the property.