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Silly Elephant! Habeas Corpus Rights Are for People

Elephants Walking In Line, Indoor
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 23, 2019

If you're an elephant and you're reading this, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you can read and access the internet -- powers that, if used responsibly, can enhance your quality of life. The bad news is, not being persons, you lack standing to file a habeas corpus petition in court challenging your confinement.

So, you're probably going to have a lot of time on your ... pads? ... to catch up on the latest in literature and online memes. Just steer clear of 4chan, OK?

Not Just Any Nonhuman Animal

The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Appellate Court was actually quite complimentary in their assessment of an elephant's legal rights. "We acknowledge that elephants are magnificent animals who naturally develop social structures and exhibit emotional and intellectual capacities," the court noted. "They are deserving of humane treatment whether they exist in the wild or captivity." Such reverence doesn't equate to all-encompassing legal rights, however:

There are profound implications for a court to conclude that an elephant, or any nonhuman animal for that matter, is entitled to assert a claim in a court of law. In the present case, we have little difficulty concluding that the elephants -- who are incapable of bearing legal duties, submitting to societal responsibilities, or being held legally accountable for failing to uphold those duties and responsibilities -- do not have standing to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus because they have no legally protected interest that possibly can be adversely affected.

So, despite the fact that "animals are sentient beings and an entirely different kind of property than a chair or a table," you're going to need to rely on existing laws prohibiting animal abuse and mistreatment to get you out of a zoo, rather than a habeas corpus petition filed by an animal rights group.

Sadly, this is not the first time elephants and other mammals have been rebuffed in their habeas claims. Chimpanzees have twice been denied habeas relief by federal courts, and who can forget the great Monkey Selfie Wars of the past few years? The animal kingdom rarely comes out on top in such cases.

And the plight of Happy, an elephant in the Bronx Zoo currently seeking a habeas order for her freedom, remains ongoing. Happy was granted a habeas hearing last year, but her case remains unresolved. More good news? Your reading acumen and internet access will help you get the latest legal updates, and perhaps craft your own habeas petitions ...

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