Frye Law - February 2020


On a hot summer day in late July 2018, three people entered Miss Helen’s home, forcibly removed her, put her in a stroller, and ran toward their getaway vehicle. This might sound like a typical kidnapping story, but Miss Helen is no ordinary person. She is a 16-inch horn shark living at the San Antonio Aquarium. Fortunately, their fishy behavior didn’t go unnoticed, and someone alerted the aquarium staff. One perpetrator drove away with Miss Helen in tow, but the other two were stopped by aquarium staff, later confessing to their involvement. Thanks to some observant witnesses and aquarium surveillance, police were able to identify the third thief and obtain a warrant to search his house. As it turned out, he had an extensive aquarium in his home and possibly hoped to add Miss Helen to his collection. After being identified, Miss Helen was returned home safely. The aquarium staff was grateful to have Miss Helen back unharmed, despite her ordeal. “She’s a tough little horn shark, I’ll tell you that,” affirmed Jamie Shank, the assistant husbandry director at the aquarium.

In Texas, larceny law designates the theft of property valued between $1,500– $20,000 as a felony. In the case of Miss Helen, who’s valued by the aquarium at $2,000, the thieves committed a felony. Also, transporting certain animals requires special permits, which led to additional charges against the three thieves. The Animal Welfare Act, which was adopted in 1966, is the only federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. Interestingly, it only applies to warm-blooded animals, so if Miss Helen had needed further protection, she would be left out in the cold.


While many animal lovers might disagree, animals are considered personal property, so stealing them is a crime of theft, not kidnapping. The penalties for stealing animals vary depending on each state’s laws, and some states have specific laws regarding animal theft.



Just like adults, minors are not required by law to talk to the police without first being informed of their Miranda rights. In fact, people under 18 years of age have the right to request both a lawyer and a parent if questioned by the police about their involvement in a crime, but it’s important to note that police are legally allowed to solicit information from a child. Any information a minor gives police voluntarily can be used in court against them. However, if a reasonable person concludes it would not be acceptable for them to leave while being questioned by the police, and they feel they have been detained or taken into custody without first hearing their Miranda rights, any information they give is considered unconstitutional and should not stand up in court. This is true both for adults and minors. Finding this line can be tricky. A situation in which a reasonable adult feels they have been detained by the police and a situation in which a very young child feels it is unacceptable to leave and stop talking to the police may be radically different, and the court rules accordingly.

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