What is Cruelty?

Legal Definition
Cruelty is indifference to suffering, and even pleasure in inflicting it. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept. Cruel ways of inflicting suffering may involve violence, but affirmative violence is not necessary for an act to be cruel. For example, if a person is drowning and begging for help, and another person is able to help with no cost or risk, but merely watches with disinterest or perhaps mischievous amusement, that person is being cruel — rather than violent.

George Eliot stated that "cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity." Bertrand Russell stated that "the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell." Gilbert K. Chesterton stated that "cruelty is, perhaps, the worst kind of sin. Intellectual cruelty is certainly the worst kind of cruelty."
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
This word has different meanings, as it is applicd to different things. Cruelty may be, 1. From husband towards the wife, or vice versa. 2. From superior towards inferior, 3. From master towards slave. 4. To animals. These will be separately considered.

2. - 1. Between husband and wife, those acts which affect the life, the health, or even the comfort of the party aggrieved, and give a reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, are called cruelty. What merely wounds the feelings is seldom admitted to be cruelty, unless the act be accompanied with bodily injury, either actual or menaced. Mere austerity of temper, petulance of manners, rudeness of language, a want of civil attention and accommodation, even occasional sallies of passion, will not amount to legal cruelty; 17 Conn. 189; a fortiori, the denial of little indulgences and particular accommodations, which the delicacy of the world is apt to number among its necessaries, is not cruelty. The negative descriptions of cruelty are perhaps the best, under the infinite variety of cases that may occur, by showing what is not cruelty. 1 Hagg. R. 35; S. C. 4 Eccles. R. 311, 312; 2 Hagg. Suppl. 1; S. C. 4 Eccles. R. 238; 1 McCord's Ch. R. 205; 2 J. J. Marsh. R. 324; 2 Chit. Pr. 461, 489; Poynt. on Mar. & Div. c. 15, p. 208; Shelf. on Mar. & Div. 425; 1 Hagg. Cons. R. 37, 458; 2 Ragg. Cons. Rep. 154; 1 Phillim. 111, 132; 8 N H. Rep. 307; 3 Mass. 321; 4 Mass. 487. It is to be remarked that exhibitions of passion and gusts of anger, which would be sufficient to create irreconcilable hatred between persons educated and trained to respect each other's feelings, would, with persons of coarse manners and habits, have but a momentary effect. An act which towards the latter would cause but a momentary difference, would with the former, be excessive cruelty. 1 Briand Med. Leg. 1 ere part. c. 2, art. 3.

3. - 2. Cruelty towards weak and helpless persons takes place where a party bound to provide for and protect them, either abuses them by whipping them unnecessarily, or by neglecting to provide for them those necessaries which their helpless condition requires. To expose a person of tender years, under a party's care, to the inclemency of the weather; 2 Campb. 650; or to keep such a child, unable to provide for himself, without adequate food; 1 Leach, 137; Russ. & Ry. 20 or an overseer neglecting to provide food and medical care to a pauper having urgent and immediate occasion for them; Russ. & Ry. 46, 47, 48; are examples of this species of cruelty.

4. - 3. By the civil code of Louisiana, art. 192, it is enacted, that when the master shall be convicted of cruel treatment of his slave, the judge may pronounce, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave shall be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of the reach of the power which his master has abused.

5. - 4. Cruelty to animals is an indictable offence. A defendant was convicted of a misdemeanor for tying the tongue of a calf so near the root as to prevent its sucking, in order to sell the cow at a greater price, by giving to her udder the appearance of being full of milk, while affording the calf all he needed. 6 Rogers, City Hall Rec. 62. A man may be indicted for cruelly beating his horse. 3 Rogers, City Rec. 191.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
The intentional and malicious infliction of physical suffering upon living creatures, particularly human beings; or, as applied to the latter, the wanton, malicious, and unnecessary infliction of pain upon the body or the feelings and emotions; abusive treatment; inhumanity; outrage. Chiefly used in the law of divorce, in such phrases as "cruel and abusive treatment," "cruel and barbarous treatment," or "cruel and inhuman treatment," as to the meaning of which, and of "cruelty" in this sense, see May v. May, 62 Pa. 206; Waldron v. Waldron, 85 Cal. 251, 24 Pac. 649, 9 L. R. A. 487; Ring v. Ring, 118 Ga. 183, 44 S. E. 861, 62 L. R. A. 878; Sharp v. Sharp, 16 III. App. 348; Myrick v. Myrlck, 67 Ga. 771; Shell v. Shell, 2 Sneed (Tenn.) 716; Vignos v. Vignos, 15 III. 186; Poor v. Poor, 8 N. H. 307, 29 Am. Dec. 664; Goodrich v. Goodrich, 44 Ala. 670; Bailey v. Bailey, 97 Mass. 373; Close v. Close, 25 N. J. Eq. 526; Cole v. Cole, 23 Iowa, 433; Turner v. Turner, 122 Iowa, 113, 97 N. W. 997; Levin v. Levin, 68 S. C. 123, 46 S. E. 945.

As between husband and wife. Those acts which affect the life, the health, or even the comfort, of the party aggrieved and give a reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, are called "cruelty." What merely wounds the feelings is seldom admitted to be cruelty, unless the act be accompanied with bodily injury, either actual or menaced. Mere austerity of temper, petulance of manners, rudeness of language, a want of civil attention and accommodation, even occasional sallies of passion, will not amount to legal cruelty; a fortiori, the denial of little indulgences and particular accommodations, which the delicacy of the world is apt to number among its necessaries, is not cruelty. The negative descriptions of cruelty are perhaps the best, under the infinite variety of cases that may occur, by showing what is not cruelty. Evans v. Evans, A. Hagg. Const. 35; Westmeath v. Westmeath, 4 Eng. Ece. 238, 311. 312.

Cruelty includes both willfulness and malicious temper of mind with which an act is done, as well as a high degree of pain inflicted. Acts merely accidental, though they inflict great pain, are not "cruel," in the sense of the word as used in stafutes against cruelty. Comm. v. McClellan, 101 Mass. 34.
See also
-- Black's Law Dictionary