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Criminal Penalties for Dog Bites

dog bite injury

Criminal Penalties for a Dog Bite

Dog bite attorney Brian Chase discusses the criminal penalties for dangerous or vicious dogs. Please speak with an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options if a vicious dog has injured you. Call for a free consultation at (800) 561-4887.

If a dog bites or attacks another person, the dog owner is held criminally responsible for any injuries. Criminal penalties can be as severe as a murder charge and as mild as a citation and fine. The following is a list of criminal penalties that a dog owner could face for any bites or attacks:

Death As First Degree Murder:

Since it is possible to cause someone’s death with a dog, murder charges can be sought depending on the circumstances. This is very rare, but still possible.

Death As Second Degree Murder:

There are three types of second degree murder:

  1. UN-premeditated murder with express malice: An intentional attack on the victim, using the dog as a “weapon” for the attack.
  2. Second degree felony-murder: When a murder occurs during the course of a felony that proves inherently dangerous (probably result of death) to human life. The felony does not need to be part of the act of murder.
  3. Implied malice – murder: Malice is implied when either no considerable provocation appears or the circumstances indicate an “abandoned and malignant heart” (wanton disregard for human life or an act with a high probability that death will result).

Felony Conviction for Mayhem With Serious Injury:

The mayhem charge can be incurred if the dog owner intended the injuries. The dog attack must result in the victim becoming disabled, disfigured, or losing a part of the face or body for a mayhem felony charge to be valid.

Felony or Misdemeanor for Injury by a Dog Trained to Fight, Attack, or Kill:

In California, it is a misdemeanor or felony (at the discretion of the prosecutor) to own a dog that is trained to fight, attack or kill. The following conditions must be met in order for such charges to be sought:

  1. The dog is trained to fight, attack or kill
  2. The dog owner or the person responsible for watching/keeping the dog is aware of the dog’s dangerous nature.
  3. The dog has bitten one or more people on two separate occasions causing any type of injury OR has only bitten on one occasion that resulted in serious injuries.
  4. The dog attack resulted from the owner or watcher’s failure to exercise ordinary care.

Felony or Misdemeanor for Using the Dog as a Deadly Weapon

Using a dog as a deadly weapon falls under “Assault with a Deadly Weapon”. The crime of assault consists of putting a person in fear of battery, meaning that the dog does not actually have to bite or attack a person for this charge to be sought. The crime can occur from simply creating the fear or threat of the dog biting or attacking.

Assault with a deadly weapon is a serious crime. For example, California Penal Code section 245 provides that any person who commits an assault with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm, or by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, may be punished by imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years; or county jail not exceeding one year; or by a fine not exceeding $10,000; or by both the fine and imprisonment.

Felony or Misdemeanor for Injury by a Dangerous Dog:

If a dog owner knowingly keeps a dog that has been deemed dangerous, they can be charged with felony or misdemeanor charges if another person sustains injuries by the dangerous dog because of the owner’s negligence or allowing the dog to run loose.

California Penal Code section 399 (as amended in 2001) states: 399. (a) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, kills any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a felony.

(b) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, causes serious bodily injury to any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony.

Manslaughter Resulting From Death During the Commission of Misdemeanor (Misdemeanor – Manslaughter Rule)

  • When a person dies as a result of someone else violating the law.

Manslaughter Resulting From Death Caused By Negligence

  • The dog owner, watcher, or keeper can be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter if their negligence results in the death of another person.

Misdemeanor For Destruction of the Attacking Dog:

  • When a dog owner, whose dog has bitten or attacked someone, willfully kills the dog. The dog owner can then be found guilty of destruction of evidence.

Misdemeanor to Fail to Quarantine or Produce the Dog or Provide Information Regarding the Dog:

  • If a dog owner fails to quarantine or produce a dog that might have rabies or has bitten or if they fail to provide information regarding such acts of the dog, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and charged fines.

The previously described criminal charges are all under state law. County and city ordinances and penalties will be applied in addition to the above-stated charges.

Understanding Your Rights If A Dog Bites You

It is your right to hold the dog owner criminally liable for your injuries if a vicious dog bites or attacks you. You can also hold the at-fault dog owner civilly liable for the injuries, damages, and losses caused. 

In California, criminally charging an individual when their dog attacks someone involves several steps. It’s important to note that criminal charges in dog attack cases are not automatic and depend on various factors, including the severity of the attack, the circumstances leading to it, and the dog’s history. Here’s a general outline of the process:

1. Reporting the Incident: The first step is usually reporting the dog attack to local authorities. The victim, a witness, or even the dog owner themselves can do this. The report is typically made to local animal control services or the police.

2. Investigation: Law enforcement or animal control officers will investigate the incident upon receiving a report. Examining the victim’s injury, speaking with witnesses, and assessing the dog’s past and behavior are all possible components of this investigation. They will also check if the dog has a history of aggression or previous attacks.

3. Determining the Severity of the Attack: The severity of the victim’s injuries plays a crucial role in the legal process. In California, if a dog attack results in a non-severe injury, it might be handled as a civil matter rather than a criminal one. However, if the injuries are severe or fatal, criminal charges are more likely to be considered.

4. Assessing Owner’s Knowledge and Dog’s History: For criminal charges to be filed, it often needs to be established that the dog owner was aware of the dog’s aggressive nature or had previously been involved in attacks. California law (specifically, California Penal Code Section 399) holds a dog owner criminally liable if they knew the dog had a tendency to be aggressive or had a history of attacks, and someone is killed or suffers serious bodily injury as a result of an attack.

5. Filing of Charges: If the investigation finds sufficient evidence that the dog owner was negligent or knew of the dog’s aggressive behavior, the local district attorney’s office may file criminal charges against the dog owner. The specific charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the circumstances.

6. Court Proceedings: The case will proceed through the criminal court system once charges are filed. This includes arraignment, pre-trial hearings, a trial, and sentencing if the owner is found guilty.

7. Potential Penalties: If convicted, the dog owner may face various penalties, including fines, probation, or even imprisonment, especially in cases where the attack leads to serious injuries or death. The court may also order the dog to be euthanized or impose specific restrictions on its ownership.

8. Civil Liability: Independently of the criminal process, the dog owner may also face civil liability, where the victim can sue for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

It’s important for dog owners in California to understand their responsibilities and liabilities under the law. Proper training, socialization, and control of their pets are crucial in preventing such incidents and the subsequent legal consequences.

The experienced California dog bite lawyers at Bisnar Chase have successfully handled many dog bite cases where victims have suffered serious or even catastrophic injuries.

We have seen firsthand the devastation these attacks can cause. If you or a loved one has been injured in a dog attack, please contact our law offices to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights. Call (800) 561-4887 for a free consultation.

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