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Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous and Vicious Dogs

Types of Criminal Offenses: Table of Contents

  1. Death as First Degree Murder
  2. Death as Second Degree Murder
  3. Felony Conviction for Mayhem With Serious Injury
  4. Felony or Misdemeanor for Using the Dog as a Deadly Weapon
  5. Felony or Misdemeanor for Injury by a Dangerous Dog
    – Manslaughter Resulting From Death During the Commission of Misdemeanor
    – Manslaughter Resulting From Death Caused By Negligence
    – Misdemeanor For Destruction of the Attacking Dog
    – Misdemeanor to Fail to Quarantine or Produce the Dog or Provide Information Regarding the Dog
  6. Understanding Your Rights

Dog bite attorney Brian Chase discusses the criminal penalties for dangerous or vicious dogs. If you’ve been injured by a vicious dog please contact an experienced attorney to go over your legal options. Call for a free consultation at (800) 561-4887.

In the event that 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 can be incurred by a dog owner 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 you have been bitten or attacked by a vicious dog it is your right to hold the dog owner criminally responsible for your injuries. You can also hold the at-fault dog owner civilly liable for the injuries, damages, and losses caused. The experienced California dog bite lawyers at Bisnar Chase have successfully handled a number of 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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