Michael Vick and the Success of Criminal Law

The debate rages on from Miami to Philadelphia to New England and West: Should Michael Vick be allowed to play in the NFL, after his conviction on criminal dog fighting charges and subsequent release. In it, football fans are pitted against dog lovers. However, maybe this opposition is misplaced. In many ways the advocates against criminal animal cruelty have never had a better example. Every time Michael Vick steps onto a football field the same message comes through:

Hurt a Dog, go to Prison!

This is exactly the type of message that PETA and every other animal rights organization should want shouted from the roof tops. So, rather than debating whether the level of punishment was sufficient, the real question is: Is the criminal justice system working?

As many people know, Michael Vick was convicted in Federal Court of maintaining an organized dog fighting ring at on of his homes in Atlanta Georgia.

The avowed goals of the criminal justice system are Punishment, Deterrence and Rehabilitation. Not only have all three been accomplished here, but Michael Vick’s celebrity status makes the deterrent factor even more effective. Most people have never even heard of the crime of dog fighting, if it’s illegal, what if any are the punishments for it. Without knowing the potential repercussions, a would be dogfighter cannot be deterred. Now thanks to Michael Vick’s celebrity status, everyone knows that dog fighting is a crime, a federal crime at that and one that brings with it multiple years in prison for a first offence.
At no time in history have dogs and dog lovers gotten better press that the police and the criminal justice system is out to protect them.

The New York Times, Michael Vick’s Apology August 19, 2009