California "Dogfighting" Laws
Penal Code 597.5 PC

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A "dogfight" is an organized fight where two or more dogs are encouraged to fight until one dog kills the other dog, or wounds him until he is too weak to continue defending himself.   "Dogfighting" falls under the broad category of animal cruelty and is specifically prohibited under Penal Code 597.5 PC.  Anyone who owns, trains or causes a dog to participate in a dogfight...or even attends a dogfight...violates this law.1

But if the prosecutor can't prove that you intentionally trained or caused your dog to participate in a dogfight...or that you knowingly attended a dogfight...there may be insufficient evidence to support a conviction.  And if the police arrested you in violation of California's search and seizure laws, that too, would serve as a legal defense to this crime.

If convicted of being a spectator at a dogfight, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.  But if you own, train or cause your dog to participate in dogfighting, you face a felony, punishable by up to three years in the state prison and a maximum $50,000 fine.  You may additionally face federal charges for this offense as well as a variety of additional state charges for crimes that are commonly associated with dogfighting.

In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys2 provide an in-depth look at the crime of dogfighting by explaining the following:

1. Penal Code 597.5 PC California's
Dogfighting Law

1.1. Dogfighting as a federal crime

2. Legal Defenses

2.1. Illegal search and seizure

2.2. No proof of ownership

2.3. No illegal intent

3. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing
for Dogfighting

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on Animal Cruelty; Misdemeanors; Felonies; Legal Defenses; Probable Cause; California Search Warrants; California Search and Seizure Laws; Federal Crimes; California's Drug Laws; California's Firearm Laws; and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.

1. The Legal Definition of Dogfighting

Dogfighting is an organized fight between two or more dogs that are placed in a pit or ring to fight each other.  Most times, the dogs are specifically bred, conditioned and trained to participate in these fights.  People gather to watch these fights and bet on the winner(s).

Fights can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, until one of the dogs is killed or injured so badly that it cannot continue to fight back.  Many times the dogs die of blood loss, shock, exhaustion, dehydration or infection...sometimes even days after the fight.

Dogfighting is generally prohibited under Penal Code 597 PC California's animal abuse law, since these dogs are subject to malicious and intentional maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding and sometimes even death.3

However, this "sport" is also specifically forbidden under California Penal Code 597.5 PC.

You violate Penal Code 597.5 PC California's dogfighting law when you

  • own, possess, keep, or train any dog with the intent that it participate in dogfighting,
  • cause any dog to injure or kill another dog in a preplanned dogfight for amusement or financial gain, or
  • attend a dogfight as a spectator.4

1.1. Dogfighting as a federal crime

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Perhaps the most famous dogfighting case in recent history involved NFL star Michael Vick.  Vick was convicted of dogfighting as a federal offense in December 2007.  The reason Vick's case was prosecuted as a federal crime4 was because his operation crossed state lines.5

And because his large-scale dogfighting ring maliciously caused the dogs to die in the ring or be hanged, electrocuted, drowned, or shot, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.  Federal penalties currently subject an individual offender to a maximum $250,000 fine and up to five years in a federal prison.6

2. Legal Defenses

Fortunately, there are legal defenses that apply to dogfighting that a skilled California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf.  The following are some examples:

2.1. Illegal search and seizure

Regardless of whether you are arrested for active participation in a dog fight or for merely being a spectator at a dogfight, if the police arrest you in violation of California's search and seizure laws, your charges should be dismissed.

This means that if the police enter the property where the dogfighting is allegedly taking place

  1. without a valid California search warrant,
  2. without probable cause, or
  3. in an area that is beyond that which is identified in the warrant,

California law provides that any evidence that is illegally obtained will be excluded from evidence.  The practical effect is that your charges will be significantly reduced if not entirely dismissed.

2.2. There is no proof of ownership

Most dogs that participate in dogfights are unlicensed dogs.  As a result, it may be difficult for the prosecution to prove that you were the individual who "owned, possessed, kept, trained or caused" a dog to participate in a dogfight.

And as Long Beach criminal defense attorney John Murray 7 explains, "Unless there is clear cut evidence tying you to the dog, the most the prosecutor will be able to prove is that you were a spectator at a dogfight.  Being a spectator at a dogfight is only a misdemeanor, whereas training or possessing a dog involved in a dogfight is a felony."

2.3. No criminal intent

Police often investigate suspected dogfighting when a neighbor reports that someone is training his dog to be unusually violent and aggressive. But the fact is a lot of people enjoy rough horseplay with their dogs. And some people train their dogs to be aggressive and intimidating so they'll be better watchdogs, and so they'll be able to defend themselves against attacks by coyotes, mountain lions or vicious stray dogs in the neighborhood. None of this means they're being raised for dogfighting.

If prosecutors can't prove that you intentionally trained or caused your dog to participate in a dogfight, then you aren't guilty of this offense. It's as simple as that.

Similarly, if the prosecution charges you with being a spectator at a dogfight...but you accidentally witnessed or unintentionally encountered it...you shouldn't be convicted of the charge.  This may be the case if, for example, you "happened" upon a dogfight in the basement of a bar or a party and could claim that you were just wandering around and that as you realized what was taking place, the cops arrived and arrested you.

3. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing
for Dogfighting
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Being a spectator at a dog fight subjects you to a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.  But

  • owning, possessing, keeping, or training a dog with the intent that it participate in dogfighting, or
  • causing any dog to injure or kill another dog in a preplanned dogfight for amusement or financial gain

is a felony, punishable by up to 16 months or two or three years in the California state prison and a maximum $50,000 fine.8

What's more is that dogfighting is rarely the only illegal activity taking place at one of these fights.  More often than not, those present at a dogfight may also be arrested for

and these are just a sample of the types of criminal activity that typically accompany a dogfight.  When you add in the penalties that these offenses carry, you can see how participating in dogfighting could quickly lead to a lengthy jail or prison sentence and substantial fines.

Call us for help...

For questions about California's dogfighting laws, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

For information about Nevada dog-fighting laws, go to our informational page on Nevada dog-fighting laws.

Online Resources:

SPCALA - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles:  Offers a wealth of information pertaining to the humane treatment of animals, as well as a place to report suspected acts of animal cruelty.

The Humane Society of the United States:  As the nation's largest animal protection organization, the Humane Society advocates for harsher animal cruelty laws, investigates animal cruelty, provides care for abused / neglected animals, and operates mobile veterinary clinics.

Legal References:

1 California Penal Code 597.5 PC -- Fighting dogs; felony; punishment; spectators; exceptions.  ("(a) Any person who does any of the following is guilty of a felony and is punishable by imprisonment in a state prison for 16 months, or two or three years, or by a fine not to exceed fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment: (1) Owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog, with the intent that the dog shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another dog. (2) For amusement or gain, causes any dog to fight with another dog, or causes any dogs to injure each other. (3) Permits any act in violation of paragraph (1) or (2) to be done on any premises under his or her charge or control, or aids or abets that act. (b) Any person who is knowingly present, as a spectator, at any place, building, or tenement where preparations are being made for an exhibition of the fighting of dogs, with the intent to be present at those preparations, or is knowingly present at that exhibition or at any other fighting or injuring as described in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a), with the intent to be present at that exhibition, fighting, or injuring, is guilty of an offense [i.e. California animal abuse] punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. (c) Nothing in this section shall prohibit any of the following: (1) The use of dogs in the management of livestock, as defined by Section 14205 of the Food and Agricultural Code, by the owner of the livestock or his or her employees or agents or other persons in lawful custody thereof. (2) The use of dogs in hunting as permitted by the Fish and Game Code, including, but not limited to, Sections 3286, 3509, 3510, 4002, and 4756, and by the rules and regulations of the Fish and Game Commission. (3) The training of dogs or the use of equipment in the training of dogs for any purpose not prohibited by law.")

2 Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

3 California Penal Code 597 PC -- California's animal abuse law.  ("(a) Except as provided in subdivision (c) of this section or Section 599c, every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or, alternatively, by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. (b) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (a) or (c), every person who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so overdriven, overloaded, driven when overloaded, overworked, tortured, tormented, deprived of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter, or to be cruelly beaten, mutilated, or cruelly killed; and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal, either as owner or otherwise, subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, or who drives, rides, or otherwise uses the animal when unfit for labor, is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or as a felony or alternatively punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony and by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000). (c) Every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, or tortures any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish as described in subdivision (d), is guilty of an offense [i.e. California animal abuse] punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or, alternatively, by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. (d) Subdivision (c) applies to any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish which is a creature described as follows: (1) Endangered species or threatened species as described in Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 2050) of Division 3 of the Fish and Game Code. (2) Fully protected birds described in Section 3511 of the Fish and Game Code. (3) Fully protected mammals described in Chapter 8 (commencing with Section 4700) of Part 3 of Division 4 of the Fish and Game Code. (4) Fully protected reptiles and amphibians described in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 5050) of Division 5 of the Fish and Game Code. (5) Fully protected fish as described in Section 5515 of the Fish and Game Code. This subdivision does not supersede or affect any provisions of law relating to taking of the described species, including, but not limited to, Section 12008 of the Fish and Game Code. (e) For the purposes of subdivision (c), each act of malicious and intentional maiming, mutilating, or torturing a separate specimen of a creature described in subdivision (d) is a separate offense. If any person is charged with a violation of subdivision (c), the proceedings shall be subject to Section 12157 of the Fish and Game Code. (f)(1) Upon the conviction of a person charged with a violation of this section by causing or permitting an act of cruelty, as defined in Section 599b, all animals lawfully seized and impounded with respect to the violation by a peace officer, officer of a humane society, or officer of a pound or animal regulation department of a public agency shall be adjudged by the court to be forfeited and shall thereupon be awarded to the impounding officer for proper disposition. A person convicted of a violation of this section by causing or permitting an act of cruelty, as defined in Section 599b, shall be liable to the impounding officer for all costs of impoundment from the time of seizure to the time of proper disposition. (2) Mandatory seizure or impoundment shall not apply to animals in properly conducted scientific experiments or investigations performed under the authority of the faculty of a regularly incorporated medical college or university of this state. (g) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a defendant is granted probation for a conviction under this section, the court shall order the defendant to pay for, and successfully complete, counseling, as determined by the court, designed to evaluate and treat behavior or conduct disorders. If the court finds that the defendant is financially unable to pay for that counseling, the court may develop a sliding fee schedule based upon the defendant's ability to pay. An indigent defendant may negotiate a deferred payment schedule, but shall pay a nominal fee if the defendant has the ability to pay the nominal fee. County mental health departments or Medi-Cal shall be responsible for the costs of counseling required by this section only for those persons who meet the medical necessity criteria for mental health managed care pursuant to Section 1830.205 of Title 7 of the California Code of Regulations or the targeted population criteria specified in Section 5600.3 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. The counseling specified in this subdivision shall be in addition to any other terms and conditions of probation, including any term of imprisonment and any fine. This provision specifies a mandatory additional term of probation and is not to be utilized as an alternative in lieu of imprisonment in the state prison or county jail when such a sentence is otherwise appropriate. If the court does not order custody as a condition of probation for a conviction under this section, the court shall specify on the court record the reason or reasons for not ordering custody. This subdivision shall not apply to cases involving police dogs or horses as described in Section 600.")

4 See California Penal Code 597.5 PC, dogfighting, endnote 1, above.

5 When crimes cross state lines, they are typically prosecuted as federal crimes.  This means that, depending on the circumstances, engaging in dogfighting could subject you to both state and federal charges.

6 18 U.S.C. section 49 - Federal Penalties for Dogfighting.  ("Whoever violates subsection (a), (b), (c), or (e) of section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for each violation.")

See also  18 U.S.C. section 3571 - Fines. ("(a) In general.--A defendant who has been found guilty of an offense may be sentenced to pay a fine. (b) Fines for individuals.--Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, an individual who has been found guilty of an offense may be fined not more than the greatest of-- (1) the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense;  (2) the applicable amount under subsection (d) of this section;  (3) for a felony, not more than $250,000;  (4) for a misdemeanor resulting in death, not more than $250,000;  (5) for a Class A misdemeanor that does not result in death, not more than $100,000;  (6) for a Class B or C misdemeanor that does not result in death, not more than $5,000; or  (7) for an infraction, not more than $5,000.  (c) Fines for organizations.--Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, an organization that has been found guilty of an  offense may be fined not more than the greatest of--(1) the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense;  (2) the applicable amount under subsection (d) of this section;  (3) for a felony, not more than $500,000;  (4) for a misdemeanor resulting in death, not more than $500,000;  (5) for a Class A misdemeanor that does not result in death, not more than $200,000;  (6) for a Class B or C misdemeanor that does not result in death, not more than $10,000; and  (7) for an infraction, not more than $10,000.  (d) Alternative fine based on gain or loss.--If any person derives pecuniary gain from the offense, or if the offense results in pecuniary loss to a person other than the defendant, the defendant may be fined not more than the greater of twice the gross gain or twice the gross loss, unless imposition of a fine under this subsection would unduly complicate or prolong the sentencing process. (e) Special rule for lower fine specified in substantive provision.--If a law setting forth an offense specifies no fine or a fine that is lower than the fine otherwise applicable under this section and such law, by specific reference, exempts the offense from the applicability of the fine otherwise applicable under this section, the defendant may not be fined more than the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense.")

7 Long Beach criminal defense attorney John Murray defends clients accused of crimes in the South Bay and Orange County, including Torrance, Compton, Bellflower, Anaheim, Fullerton, Santa Ana, Westminster and Newport Beach.

8 See California Penal Code 597.5 PC, dogfighting, endnote 1, above.

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