Chimpanzees Not Entitled to Habeas Relief, But Should They Be?

May 10, 2018, 3:35 PM

A bid to get two chimpanzees held by their owners in cages granted a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the New York Court of Appeals May 8.

The state high court denied a nonprofit group who lost in a lower court leave to appeal the ruling. But the question whether chimpanzees are entitled to habeas relief should be addressed at some point, Judge Eugene M. Fahey’s concurrence said.

In New York, a “person” illegally restrained is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus to show cause for the detention and to seek release. The dictionary defines “person” to include an “entity” that has “most of the rights and duties of a human being.”

The appellate court said chimpanzees aren’t persons because they aren’t able “to bear legal duties, or be held legally accountable for their actions,” Fahey said. But the question should be whether chimpanzees have the right to liberty protected by habeas corpus, he said.

Chimpanzees are a highly intelligent species with advanced cognitive abilities, Fahey said. Relying on a paradigm that determines whether they are entitled to habeas corpus based on whether they are a person or thing “amounts to a refusal to confront a manifest injustice,” he said.

“While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing,” Fahey said.

The case is Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Lavery, 2018 BL 162191, N.Y., No. 2018-268, 5/8/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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