Can You Own an Attack Dog in California?
California Penal Code 399.5 makes it a crime to knowingly own a dog that is trained to attack, fight or kill and that the dog has bitten a person on two or more occasions, or the dog’s attack has caused serious injury. The same dog bite laws apply to animals that have not been trained to attack.
What Are Related Offenses to Owning an Attack Dog?
- California Penal Code 399 makes it possible to be criminally charged for failing to control a dangerous animal. The prosecution would have to show that the defendant willfully allowed a dangerous animal to roam; then, as a result, someone is seriously injured or killed by the animal.
- California Penal Code 597 makes it a criminal offense to physically harm, overwork, neglect or kill an animal. This crime could include other crimes like dogfighting.
- In the state of California, we have a dog bite law that holds the owner of the dog accountable for all injuries sustained due to an attack by their dog, regardless of the dog’s prior behavioral history.
What Are the Penalties for Owning an Attack Dog?
Violation of Penal Code 399.5 may result in different disciplinary outcomes because it is a wobbler offense. Meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- When charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant may face a:
- Sentence up to one year in county jail and
- a possible fine of up to $10,000.
- At the Judge’s discretion he/she may grant the defendant misdemeanor probation.
- When charged as a felony the defendant may face a:
- Maximum sentence of up to four years in the county jail and
- a possible fine up to $10,000.
- At the Judge’s discretion he/she may grant the defendant felony probation.
Violation of Penal Code 399 is also another wobbler offense in California. If someone is killed because of failing to control a dangerous animal, it must be charged as a felony.
- A misdemeanor for failing to control a dangerous animal may result in:
- A six month sentence in county jail and
- a possible fine up to $1,000
- A felony for failure to control a dangerous animal may result in:
- A three year jail sentence and
- a possible fine up to $10,000.
Violation of California Penal Code 597 may result in a misdemeanor or a felony as well.
- If a person faces misdemeanor charges for animal cruelty they can face:
- A maximum of one year sentenced in county jail and
- a possible fine up to $20,000
- If a person faces felony charges for animal cruelty they may face:
- A minimum incarceration in a California state prison of 16 months to a maximum incarceration of three year and
- A possible fine up to $20,000
Violation of California’s dog bite law does not result in a prison sentence, but makes the owner of the animal liable for all medical bills, lost wages or pain and suffering caused to the victim of their dog’s attack.
What Are Possible Legal Defenses for Owning an Attack Dog?
A person charged with violating Penal Code 399.5 could possibly use one of the three following defenses to avoid charges:
- The first defense is being able to prove that the defendant had no knowledge of the dog being dangerous. For example, the defendant purchased a dog without being informed that it could be dangerous and without that knowledge the dog later goes and attacks someone.
- The second defense in a rare case is exemption. The exemption defense usually applies to parties like on-duty animal control officers and police officers assigned to canine units.
- The third possible defense is proving the officers had no probable cause, or reasonable belief, to detain the defendant, then unfairly obtained evidence from the defendant. In this case, any evidence found during the unlawful search and seizure could be excluded from the case.