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'Joker's Law' to go into effect July 1 in Tennessee, giving harsher penalties for hurting police dogs

The bill was introduced in the Tennessee House of Representatives last October after Joker, a Bradley County, Tennessee, police dog, was shot several times on duty.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Starting Friday, July 1, a new law passed in Tennessee means anyone in the state who knowingly assaults a police K-9, or any police animal, could face up to 30 years in prison. 

Joker's Law was introduced in the Tennessee House last October by State Rep. Mark Hall, as a response to the shooting of a police dog named Joker in Bradley County, Tennessee, east of Chattanooga.

Joker was shot several times September 22 while chasing auto burglary suspects in Cleveland, Tennessee. Six juveniles were arrested in Chattanooga related to the shooting and a series of vehicle thefts. Joker was released from hospital care September 29 and eventually returned to full service. 

RELATED: Joker's Law | East Tennessee lawmaker wants to make it an automatic felony to harm a law enforcement animal

The new law says that those who knowingly, unlawfully harms a police dog, fire dog, search and rescue dog, service animal or police horse would now be charged with a Class B felony, which carries a sentence of eight to 30 years in prison, and up to a $25,000 fine.

Anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 who kills or causes serious injury to one of those animals could also be tried as an adult. 

Previously, killing a law enforcement service animal was treated as grand theft, a minimum Class E felony, which carries a one to six-year sentence and up to a $3,000 fine. 

RELATED: Memphis animal rescue raising money to save burned, 'tortured' dog

"Thank you TN Representative Mark Hall for taking this on, writing the Bill, and seeing it through to the end," said the Joker's Law Petition Project, a social media group in support of the law. "You never hesitated to do the right thing for Joker and all other service animals when the idea was taken to your desk."

Joker's Law was signed by Gov. Bill Lee on June 1.

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