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Cockfighting Is Legal in Texas if It’s for “Bona Fide Experimentation for Scientific Research”

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Here’s one to put in the “did you know” file for the next time you’re trading weird facts about Texas laws at a party (that is a popular party game, right?): Cockfighting, which is illegal in Texas under chapter 42 of the penal code, is permissable under certain circumstances: namely, under section 42.105(e)(1), a defense against prosecution occurs if “the actor was engaged in bona fide experimentation for scientific research.”

This little-known exception got a brief, unsuccessful workout in the Rio Grande Valley, when a rural cockfight just outside of Edinburg was broken up by police last weekend. According to The Monitor:

Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies responded to a warehouse Saturday in the 300 block of East Owassa Road, where they found a cockfight with about 100 spectators inside, [Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe] Treviño said Tuesday.

The operators told deputies that the cockfight was being conducted for medical purposes, Treviño said.

“Who in the world would ever think of something like that?” he said.

It’s a bizarre thought, to imagine that in the world of underground cockfighting, knowledge of the 42.105(e)(1) exception is traded like a magic “get out of jail free” card that one can invoke to the police in the event that they come kicking in your door, but it seems like that is probably what’s going on, since there is nothing to indicate that the fellas responsible for the cockfight were telling the truth.

“These idiots probably saw it and say, ‘Hey, we could do this (as) medical researchers,’” the sheriff said. “See how far that is going to go.”

Deputies have five people in custody, including the landowner and renter along with other organizers who are expected to face state jail felony charges in the case, Treviño said. Investigators hope to have the case ready for an arraignment Wednesday, he said.

[…]To be clear, deputies haven’t found anything that shows the birds’ fight to the death supported any type of research, the sheriff said.

“That is the first time ever in my life … that I have ever, ever heard that, even though I think I have seen it,” Treviño said. “You’ve got over 100 people sitting in the stands looking at an experiment? You know, come on.”

It’s hard to imagine what “bona fide experimentation for scientific research” looks like in the context of a cockfight—but a good guess would probably be that the exception was placed in the penal code so that the work of noted cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who penned the seminal essay “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” would not have made him a criminal. That’s about all we’ve got, though. 

(Austin cockfight poster circa 1942 via Flickr)

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