PIERRE, S.D. (Legal Newsline) - Fifteen cats roaming free in a moving car are a public safety concern, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Because the cats interfered with the driver's vision, a Pierre police officer was right to impound the animals belonging to Patricia Edwards. The officer said he was nearly struck by Edwards' car in 2009 while she was backing out of a convenience store parking space.
Edwards challenged the impounding of her cats, which were sent to a humane society for adoption. A trial court ruled there were exigent circumstances that justified the impounding.
"Beyond the unsanitary aspects of the situation, it presented a significant safety risk to the public," Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote.
"This incident occurred at a busy convenience store in Pierre on an August night. Because of the cats in the back window, Edwards failed to see the patrol car behind her and nearly backed into it.
"What if, instead of the officer's patrol car, a less visible child on a skateboard or bicycle had passed by at that same moment? If the safety of an endangered cat can constitute 'exigent circumstances' even more so must a direct threat to the safety of the public in the area."
Edwards had told the officer she was travelling from Texas, that she had been living out of her car for several days and that she did not have any money.
Two justices dissented -- Judith Meierhenry and Glen Severson. They feel the cats should be returned to Edwards.
"The question before this Court is not whether Ms. Edwards's cats lived in ideal conditions or whether they may receive better care elsewhere," Severson wrote.
"The question is whether 'exigent circumstances' existed to allow Officer Jandt to seize the animals without a warrant or court order. That question must be answered in the negative."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.