Caged Chimp Is a Legal Person: Animal Rights Petition

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 03, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An animal rights group has filed a writ of habeas corpus in New York state court, declaring that a caged chimpanzee is entitled to rights as a legal person.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. filed this legal petition on Tuesday, arguing that the court should grant Tommy, a captive chimpanzee in Gloversville, New York, legal personhood and the freedom that comes with it, reports the New York Times.

Although the petition (see below) does not request that Tommy to be set free to roam upstate New York, it does demand his “immediate release to a primate sanctuary” which can adequately provide for his needs.

Writs of habeas corpus are typically used by criminal defendants, as a way to legally challenge their imprisonment as unlawful. Tommy’s habeas petition would attempt to both obtain his release from his cage as well as have the law recognize him as a person.

Key to this legal strategy is a strange quirk in New York state law, which allows pets and other animals to be considered beneficiaries of trusts. The Nonhuman Rights Project believes this is evidence that New York state has and does consider animals as legal persons with property rights — and therefore Tommy has the same right to liberty as a human.

Nonhuman Rights Project v. Laverly - Habeas Petition

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