Despite what you’ve been told, whatever happens in Las Vegas does not simply stay within the confines of the city’s limits. In fact, the exact opposite usually happens. Whether it’s cheating on your spouse or losing your life savings at a craps table, the repercussions often spread to the rest of your life. Nothing stays in Las Vegas. Actually, that’s too strong of a statement. If you commit a crime in the city, jurisdiction will usually remain within Sin City. Just ask these guys.
By now you’ve probably seen this story in the news rounds, but in case you’ve yet to hear this fascinating tale of law students and animal cruelty intrigue, here’s a quick review. Eric Cuellar, 24, and Justin Teixeira, 24, are law students at the University of California, Berkeley. The two were on a trip in Las Vegas when a witness allegedly saw them emerge from bushes inside the Flamingo hotel and casino’s Wildlife Habitat. Not too strange by Las Vegas standards. After all, as The Hangover has taught us, people can end up in weird places while staying in Vegas.
But apparently the duo took their hijinks too far. Teixeira was allegedly holding the decapitated body of a 14-year-old helmeted guinea fowl, an exotic bird in the hotel’s Wildlife Habitat. Teixeria allegedly threw the dead fowl at Cuellar while stating, “I f—ing killed wildlife.”
Doesn’t sound like very lawyerly behavior, huh? Nor for that matter, very humane either. A witness certainly didn’t think so. She called the cops and the two were arrested. And like any good aspiring attorney, both men refused to talk to police and instead asked for a lawyer. Guess they were paying attention in criminal procedure class.
The bird, whose name is Turk, was valued between $150 to $175. Both men were jailed for suspicion of conspiracy and willful malicious torture/killing of wildlife. Surveillance video on the scene apparently shows a third male suspect, but police have yet to locate him.
In case you’re wondering, no, this is definitely not the way one should endeavor to start their legal career. While this story may sound a little silly, the charges these men face are no joke. Conspiracy and animal cruelty are serious felony offenses. If convicted, the pair could face potential five-figure fines and more than a year in prison. And so far, the evidence seems pretty damning.
Malicious torture or killing of wildlife is the intentional harm or destruction of an animal without any purpose. In Teixeria and Cuellar’s case, the dead bird speaks for itself. But this isn’t quite an open-and-shut case. The pair may have a possible reprieve regarding whether they actually possessed the necessary mental intent to kill the bird.
For Teixeria, it’s definitely not a good thing that a witness claims to have heard him admit to beheading the bird. However, as we all know, witness testimony doesn’t always necessarily lead to a person’s conviction. Credibility plays a big role in determining whether to believe a witness’ statement. This case is no different.
But assuming the statement is believed, the duo could always fall back on an intoxication defense. Remember, the animal cruelty law they’re accused of breaking requires an intentional action. And courts have long held that being drunk can prohibit a person from developing the necessary mindset for an intentional crime. This, it would seem, would be Teixeria and Cuellar’s best bet to dismiss or reduce their charge to a lesser offense.
For now though, there haven’t been enough facts released about the story to make a proper guess as to the case’s outcome. The two are due to return to court soon. Both men have clean criminal records. However, that might not be the situation for long.
A felony conviction is an ugly blemish to have on one’s record, but for law students, the negative effects are far worse. Don’t forget, to become a lawyer one has to also pass a moral character examination. And there’s no better way to fail these background checks than by having a felony conviction on your record. For Teixeria and Cuellar, the outcome of their criminal investigation could be what decides whether they become lawyers or be forced to find new careers.
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