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Chimps Not ‘Legal Persons,’ Court Rules
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A New York judge has ruled that, for purposes of habeas corpus, chimpanzees are not legal persons.

Summary: A New York judge has ruled that, for purposes of habeas corpus, chimpanzees are not legal persons.

A New York judge ruled on Thursday that chimpanzees are not “legal persons,” which means that Hercules and Leo, two research chimps, must stay where they are, NBC News Reports. An animal rights group filed a court case over the pair of chimps, arguing that they should be set free.


The Nonhuman Rights Project is a non-profit activist group based in Florida. It sued on behalf of Hercules and Leo, eight-year-old chimpanzees in March. The group argued that Hercules and Leo are intelligent and autonomous and that keeping them at the State University of New York at Stony Brook is illegal imprisonment. After the judge’s decision was announced, the organization said it would be appealing.

Read about a recent ruling in the case here.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe denied the group’s request for a writ of habeas corpus, which frees individuals from unlawful detention. Judge Jaffe did note that she sympathizes with the chimps and their supporters, however.

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The judge said that campaigns to give rights to chimpanzees were “understandable,” highlighting that humans and chimpanzees share 99 percent of their DNA. The judge even said “some day [such campaigns] may even succeed,” because the status of “legal person” is not always interchangeable with “human being.”

In October, the New York courts were preparing to hear a case about a different chimp, Tommy.

As an example, she noted that corporations enjoy protection due to what she called the “legal fiction of personhood.”

Should chimps ever be defined as "persons"?

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However, at the time of the hearing, Judge Jaffe said that she had to follow legal precedent from a December case, during which another New York judge ruled that “legal persons” have duties and responsibilities that go with their rights. Chimpanzees cannot perform these duties and rights. Additionally, according to the New York Times, Jaffe cited the history of habeas corpus in her 33-page opinion, noting references to discrimination against woman and slaves, leading her to conclude that she could not see Hercules and Leo as people in the eyes of the law.

Read about the December ruling here.

In conclusion, Jaffe penned, “animals, including chimpanzees and other highly intelligent mammals, are considered property under the law.”

Steve Wise, the president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said that Jaffe’s ruling was “thoughtful and comprehensive,” but that the group will appeal to a higher court that is not bound by the December decision. Wise called the ruling a partial victory, Reuters added.

Source: NBC News


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