Hidden Truth, Legal Rights for Chimps

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

The hidden truth about legal rights for Hercules and Leo, the NY Chimpanzees making history 

There is great speculation that two Chimpanzees from Long Island NY have been given special human legal rights by a Supreme Court Justice.  The Court issued a Habeas Corpus.  Does this now mean that the chimps are legal persons?  Are the chimps legally obligated to comply with the court order?  There’s a hidden secret, a secret truth, which will tell us the answer about how human legal rights can work for chimpanzees, under the law. The secret is hidden in the law of the Habeas and by the nature of how the Court works.

This case involves an animal rights type of legal action involving the question of protection for two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo.  Animal rights activists, the Nonhuman Rights Project, are the plaintiffs.  Stony Brook University, Long Island NY and the president of Stony Brook University, Samuel M. Stanley Jr., MD, are the named defendants.  The defendants are the legal owners of the chimps and are holding them in captivity, the crux of the legal issue for the animal rights activist plaintiffs.

On April 20, 2015, a Writ of Habeas Corpus (“Habeas”) was issued by the Supreme Court Justice in this case, Barbara Jaffee.  The legal question involves why the University should be legally permitted to hold in captivity, the chimpanzees Hercules and Leo.  The Habeas was intended to serve justice in this matter.

A Writ of Habeas Corpus is a court order, mandating or commanding that the custodian of a prisoner (person/human) must release the prisoner and bring them up into court and show cause why the prisoner should remain in lawful imprisonment. In Blacks Law Dictionary and other Law Dictionaries, Habeas Corpus is a Latin legal term of art meaning, “bring up the body.”

In the case of Hercules and Leo, the Habeas compels their captor, Stony Brook University, not the chimps, to release the chimps from captivity.  It allegedly hails the chimps, the “alleged” prisoners to bring them into Court (as a practical matter, they are to be released from “bondage”, or captivity).   The Habeas also compels the defendants to show cause (give a good reason) why they should continue to hold Leo and Hercules in captivity.  This is what the Habeas means, in the context of this trial.

The Habeas gives the defendants a choice.  Bring up the prisoners, by releasing them from bondage, or show the court why the chimps should continue to be legally held. This is what must be done.  The Habeas is a tool, typically used in criminal trials when prisoners need to be hailed into court for things like arraignment, suppression hearings and other hearings and at trial.

In order to understand whether or not the Habeas imparts some special human right upon chimps, we must examine the intent of Justice Jaffee, the nature of the Habeas and a few other things, discussed by the following three points.

Point #1:  If animals were given human legal rights, consider the practical and legal impact upon the US court system.

If one small human right was given to any animal, like a train with many cars, others will follow.  Giving animals a Habaes is one thing, but giving them legal rights to be treated like prisoners doesn’t mean giving them the right to vote the right to a fair trial or other things reserved for humans.  There’s the legal right to a jury of one’s peers to face your accusor, and on and on and on.  These issues are not likely a Pandora’s box of legal and practice problems Justice Jaffee intended to open.

It’s a dangerous slippery slope.  Would a jury box full of chimpanzees be something Justice Jaffee had in mind? What would be the cost?  Are we to re-invent the ballot box, making it suitable for chimpanzee fingers and toes? How would a fish take the witness stand?  Then there is the matter of a fair and impartial court interpreter. Imagine, a chimpanzee court interpreter, wearing pants – not so easy to unthink.

Indulge your imagination.  Should dolphins be given the right to a fair trial, simply because they are intelligent and highly social creatures?  Where would an Elephant sit in the jury box?  You got it.  An elephant would sit anywhere he wants!  All kidding aside, if animals were given legal rights, our court system and legal system would be a mess.  Government would become chaotic and obsolete. Furthermore, giving animals human legal rights is nothing short of tyranny for animals.

Point #2:  If animals were given human legal rights, the intent of lawmakers would be abolished.  

Human rights, basic and essential legal rights, are provided for humans by humans.  The courts were made by humans for humans. Animals did not create our legal system.  The legislative intent of our court systems, our law, is to keep order and maintain justice for humans, not animals.  Our legal system was made to provide justice, not chaos.  Chaos is quite the opposite of justice.

The human interpretation and concept of courtroom is important. Chimpanzees and other animals stand a good chance of not behaving like humans in court.  Chimps, like most animals, tend to have great difficulty controlling their urges and behavior.  Seldom do animals conduct themselves like humans. Seldom do animals behave like humans would expect or require, in a courtroom situation, to maintain order.  Animals are unpredictable, to varying degrees.  Lack or order is chaotic.  Humans need courtroom decorum and order, to perfect justice. Animals, maybe not so much.

Chimpanzees, if they were forced to comply with our court system, could not do so without severe and potentially bazaar legal outcomes. For example, in the matter of Travis the Chimp from Connecticut, a 200 lb. Chimpanzee decided to brutally rip the face and hands off of Charla Nash, his owner’s friend. If Travis the Chimp were still alive, should Travis have been given a jury of his peers? Would justice be served if  Travis was sentenced to death or life in prison? Would Travis be eligible for parole or appeal after appeal? Bringing chimps to court is not likely beneficial nor the intent of our legislatures. Giving chimps legal rights was not the likely intent of Justice Jaffee.

Furthermore, animals do not need humans. Animals govern themselves, however cruel we may think nature can be. Animals have basic ways of establishing their own social order. In the context science, animal social order is amazing. Groups of primates great each other in a certain way to invoke peace. Dolphins swim together in schools to catch fish. Gorillas groom each other to stay healthy and show acceptance.

Intelligent creatures like dolphins, primates and gorillas do quite well, without human intervention. This is essentially why Justice Jaffee probably does not intend to interfere with the social order of primates. In essence, justice is served best by allowing creatures to just be themselves.  Humans have done enough damage to animals.  As a matter of justice, humans have no business giving human legal rights to chimps.  Human intervention is one reason why it is said that Travis the Chimp did what he did and a big reason why why the law suit regarding Leo and Hercules is underway.

Furthermore, history has shown that it’s not always a good idea to tamper with the social order of other societies, unlike ours. This holds true for people as well as animals. Animals do a good job of establishing their own social order.

In the context of our human government, humans are expected to care for animals, that’s pretty much it. Humans have no obligation to create social conditions where animals are expected to conform to human behaviors, duties and expectations. Placing animals outside of their own animal-based social order places animals at risk. When humans take chimps outside of their own social order, law suits ensue, and animal rights activists get involved. Animal rights activists contend that humans have destroyed the chimps Hercules and Leo and they deserve a better life, outside of confinement.

But in the context of human government, laws were not intended to place animals on the same legal playing ground as humans.  This is not humane or sound.  Cruelty toward animals not only involves captivity but capacity.  Animals, like children, for varying reasons lack legal capacity.  Indeed, maintaining the intent of the law, designed by humans for humans, is inline with the intent of Justice Jaffee.

Point #3:  If animals were given human legal rights, the NY Habeas would not serve justice or invoke a correct result.  

The essential “secret” why Justice Jaffee ordered the Habeas for Hercules and Leo is in the way she used the Habeas.  She used the Habeas like a tool, a legal instrument.  This tool, if you will, insures that justice will be served.  Justice Jaffee used the Habeas to command the release of the chimps, probably into an animal sanctuary.  Because of the Habeas, unless the Defendants prove there is any legal and permissible exception to the release, Leo and Hercules will remain free in a safe place. The Chimps will remain precisely where Justice Jaffee believes they should be, for now.  She used the Habeas as a tool to invoke justice and compel a correct result.  The Habeas is a very powerful legal instrument, indeed.

Even so, granting the Habeas seems a little unorthodox, especially in a matter involving chimpanzees.  Justice Jaffee is quite clever.  If her intent was to use the Habeas to give the chimps some special human legal right.  If she did, the result would be unjust. On the contrary, Justice Jaffee used a legal tool within her power to compel the defendants do the right thing. Justice Jaffee used the Habeas as a tool to insure that justice is served.  In this way, the Habeas was used like an instrument, a tool to ferret out truth and compel legal order.

It’s reasonable to assume that Hercules and Leo will be in a better place, like an animal sanctuary.  The Chimps probably will not be hailed into court. They won’t be asked to testify. Justice is served by the Habeas, nothing more.  If the Chimps are not released, the defendants go directly to jail, do-not-pass-Go, end of story.

This is the other reason why Justice Jaffee used the Habeas.  The Habeas switched the burden of proof off the plaintiff’s shoulders and onto the defendants.  Now, the defendants must now show the court why it is legal for Leo and Hercules to be held in captivity by the University.  If Justice Jaffee didn’t use the Habeas, the plaintiffs bear this burden.  Legal tools, like a Habeas, are used all the time to create an environment to do what must be done.

Obviously, Justice Jaffee wanted to hear Stony Brook’s side of the story first and have the chimps released, for a time. The real issue is not whether Hercules and Leo have been given a legal right, just like humans.  Animal rights laws protect animals from cruel treatment by humans. This is how it is.  This is how the law works. The real issue has to do with the truth and the spin some would place on this subject.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and Science Magazine and others want people to think chimpanzees have been given legal rights reserved for humans.  For readers, this sort of story is delightfully strange.  It is an unusual and newsworthy story about animals.  Unfortunately, it’s not about the truth. Statements like, for the “first time in world history,” a judge has recognized two chimpanzees being used for research purposes as “legal persons” and granted them a Writ of Habeas Corpus, are simply untrue. Statements like these put a spin on court case news. It’s a matter of news hype. News hype is intended to draw attention and stir our emotions.  News hype also invokes discussions and raises eyebrows. Discussions are not all that bad.  In fact, news is good.

So now you know the big secret. The truth is out.  It’s not about Chimps being given human legal rights. We aren’t reinventing our entire legal system. It’s not all that sensational. The secret is about the truth and how a New York Supreme Court Judge chose to use a legal instrument, the Habeas. The truth is found by the nature of the Habeas.  The truth lies in how the Habeas was used. The Habeas hopefully, will produce a fair and just result for everyone. This is truth.

Truth is good.  Rooting out the truth is what courts are all about.  Law is about truth. Law is what I do. Visit the about page of my website to find out more, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com/about/ 


ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.


NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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