Penal Code 399.5 PC - Owning Dogs Trained to Fight, Attack, or Kill in California

Are attack dogs illegal in California?

Criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse discusses California penal code 399.5 PC, which makes it a crime to own a dog that has been trained to attack or kill. If the owner of the dog knows that the animal is dangerous, then there are two situations when penal 399.5 PC can be enforced. One is if the dog attacks on more than one occasion, the second is if the dog attacks and causes substantial bodily harm. The crime of owning an attack dog can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, leading to a charge of up to 4 years in prison for the more serious offense, and one year in jail for the less serious crime of misdemeanor 399.5 PC. Also, if convicted of this crime, the judge will most likely remove the dog from its home, and possibly even euthanize the dangerous animal. Even though this is a serious crime in California, there are circumstances when people are wrongfully charged with this offense. If you did not know that the dog was dangerous or trained to attack, then you are factually innocent of penal code 399.5. If you took reasonable precautions to prevent a dog bite, then that is also a defense to this crime. And if evidence against you was obtained by an illegal police search, or other methods which violated your constitutional rights, then the evidence can be thrown out by a judge, and your case may be dismissed. More info at https://www.shouselaw.com/attack-dogs or call (888) 327-4652 for a free consultation. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.


Penal Code 399.5
is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to own a dog that is trained to fight, attack or kill, provided that he knows the dog is dangerous and:

  1. the dog bites a person, on two separate occasions or more, or
  2. the dog bites a person once and causes a substantial injury.

California's dog bite law applies in the situation when a dog bites another person and the animal was not trained to fight or attack.

Examples of illegal acts under this statute include:

  • Peter trains a Pitt Bull to kill and the dog bites a person on two separate occasions.
  • Jose knows that his dog can fight, and the animal seriously injures the mailman after biting him on the face.
  • Isabella owns a dog trained to attack and the animal bites her neighbor three separate times.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can assert. These include showing that a defendant:

  • did not know that the dog was dangerous,
  • was exempt from criminal liability, and
  • was arrested without probable cause.

Penalties

The crime of owning a dog trained to kill is a wobbler offense in California. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to four years, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

dog attacking person
Penal Code 399.5 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to own a dog that is trained to fight or kill

1. What is the crime of owning a dog trained to fight or attack?

Penal Code 399.5 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to own, or control, a dog that is trained to fight, attack, or kill, provided that:

  1. the dog bites a person twice or more, or
  2. the dog bites a person once and causes a substantial injury.1

Please note that there can only be a crime if the above dog bites take place due to the owner's failure to exercise ordinary care.2 Whether this takes place is determined by the facts of a given case.

Please also note that a person cannot be charged with an offense under this statute if:

  • he did not know the dog was dangerous, and/or
  • the victim did not take the precautions that a reasonable person would have taken in the same circumstances.3

Once again, whether or not the above are met is determined by the facts of a given case.

If a dog owner is found guilty under this code section, the ultimate fate of the dog is determined by a judge at a court hearing.4 If the judge decides that the animal is still dangerous so that another attack or bite cannot be prevented, then:

  • the judge can order that the dog be removed from its location or home, or
  • the judge can order that the animal be put to sleep.5

2. Are there legal defenses to PC 399.5 violations?

A person can try to challenge an accusation by raising a legal defense. A legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss a charge.

Three common defenses include:

  1. no knowledge of danger;
  2. exemption; and/or,
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. No knowledge of the danger

Please recall that a person cannot be charged under Penal Code 399.5 if he did not know that a dog was dangerous. It is a defense, therefore, for a defendant to show that while a dog bite may have happened, he did not know of any danger. For example, perhaps the accused bought a mean dog from another person and was not aware that it could attack.

2.2. Exemption

Certain persons are exempted from criminal liability for owning a dog that is trained to fight or kill. These exempted parties include:

  • on-duty animal control officers, and
  • police officers assigned to a canine unit.6

2.3. No probable cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating PC 399.5, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

Probable cause” essentially means that there is a reasonable belief that someone committed a crime (based on all of the circumstances).

man in prison garb being led to cell
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties, punishment and sentencing?

The crime of owning a dog trained to kill is a wobbler offense in California. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.7 The decision will be based upon:

  • the facts of a case, and
  • the defendant's criminal history.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.8

In lieu of jail time, a judge can award a defendant with misdemeanor (summary) probation.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for two, three, or four years, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.9

In lieu of jail time, a judge can award a defendant with felony (formal) probation.

4. Are there related offenses?

There are three laws related to owning a dog trained to attack, fight, or kill. These are:

  1. failure to control a dangerous dog or animal – PC 399;
  2. animal abuse and cruelty – PC 597; and,
  3. California's dog bite law.

4.1. Failure to control a dangerous dog or animal – PC 399

Penal Code 399 PC is the California statute on failure to control a dangerous animal.

A person is guilty of a crime under PC 399 if:

  1. he willfully lets a dangerous animal (usually a dog) run free or doesn't use ordinary care in keeping it; and
  2. as a result of these actions, another person is killed or suffers "serious bodily injury".10

The penalties under this statute depend on whether the victim suffers serious bodily injury or death.

If the victim suffers serious bodily injury, then the crime is a California wobbler, meaning it is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If the victim is killed, failing to control a dangerous animal must be charged as a felony.

As a California misdemeanor, failure to control a dangerous animal is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months; and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.11

Penalties for a California felony failure to control a dangerous dog or other animal can include:

  • up to three years in jail; and/or
  • a fine of up to $10,000.12

4.2. Animal abuse and cruelty – PC 597

Penal Code 597 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to kill, physically harm, neglect or overwork an animal.

Other forms of animal cruelty that can lead to criminal penalties in California include:

A violation of PC 597 is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the potential consequences are:

  • up to one year in a county jail, and/or
  • a maximum $20,000 fine.

The penalties for felony animal abuse in California are:

4.3. California's dog bite law

California's dog bite law imposes “strict liability” for dog bites. This means that the owner of a dog who bites someone is liable for that person's injuries - even if the dog never bit a person before and the owner did nothing wrong.

This contrasts with the "one bite rule," in effect in other states, by which the owner is only held liable if the dog has bitten someone before or has displayed violent tendencies.

Dog bites can cause serious and debilitating injuries. A victim who files a lawsuit under this law may be able to recover compensatory damages for:

Were you accused of owning a dog trained to fight, attack, or kill in California? Call us for help…

california dog owner criminal defense
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 399.5 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

(For similar charges in Colorado, please see our article on: Owning a Dangerous Dog (Colorado 18-9-204.5 CRS).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 399.5 PC(a). This code section states: “Any person owning or having custody or control of a dog trained to fight, attack, or kill is guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, if, as a result of that person s failure to exercise ordinary care, the dog bites a human being, on two separate occasions or on one occasion causing substantial physical injury. No person shall be criminally liable under this section, however, unless he or she knew or reasonably should have known of the vicious or dangerous nature of the dog, or if the victim failed to take all the precautions that a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation.”

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. California Penal Code 399.5(b) PC.

  5. See same.

  6. California Penal Code 399.5(e) PC.

  7. California Penal Code 399.5(a) PC.

  8. See same.

  9. See same.

  10. California Penal Code 399 PC.

  11. See same. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.

  12. See same. See also California Penal Code 18 PC.

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