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A Florida woman is facing aggravated battery charges for allegedly stabbing her boyfriend to protect her pet turtle.
Marie Seymour, 53, was taken into police custody on Tuesday, while her boyfriend was taken to a Palm Beach Gardens hospital. According to the Palm Beach Post, Seymour is accused of stabbing her boyfriend after a drunken threat that he was going to "harm her turtle."
Is there a legal defense available for this reptile lover?
No 'Defense of Turtle' Theory
Self-defense is a well-recognized affirmative defense to violent crimes such as battery, but it only works for protecting yourself from imminent threats of violence. The Post reports that Seymour claims her boyfriend "came after her" in addition to threatening her turtle. So if Seymour reasonably believed that her boyfriend was making a threat of serious injury or even lethal force, she may have been legally justified in stabbing him.
However, if it turns out that the only threat was toward her cold-blooded pet, Seymour may not have a legal limb to stand on. Some states do recognize "defense of others" as a legal justification for assault or battery, but this defense applies to people, not turtles. No matter how intelligent or cute, non-human companions are considered property under the law, so deadly force is never legal to defend turtles.
Florida law actually does allow the use of non-lethal force to protect personal property, but it's unclear how stabbing someone would be viewed in terms of lethality.
Justice on the Half-Shell
Seymour is facing charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for the alleged stabbing. Reports are unclear as to where and how many times Seymour is accused of stabbing her boyfriend, but the Post reports that he "did not want Seymour to go to jail."
In Florida, the penalty for aggravated battery can be up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up $10,000, which would mean a long time away from her beloved turtle if Seymour is convicted. However, if Seymour's boyfriend refuses to cooperate in her prosecution, it may prove very difficult for prosecutors to pursue a case against her. It's one of the many reasons why prosecutors ultimately drop charges.
The turtle's name has not been released, presumably because it is a minor.