California Penal Code 365.7 PC makes it a crime to engage in service dog fraud. Under this section, it is a misdemeanor to make a false claim that your dog is a medical service dog in order to take it to – or to keep the dog at – an apartment or business establishment.
The language of Penal Code 365.7 states:
“Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as…or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor…”
- lying and saying a dog is a service animal to house him/her in a “no-pets” apartment.
- falsely saying a dog is a signal dog to convince business owners that the pet should ride in a store’s shopping cart.
- attempting to bring a dog in certain public places by falsely saying that he/she is a guide dog.
Dog owners can contest charges under this statute with a legal defense. A few common defenses include owners showing that:
- they have legitimate service dogs,
- they did not act fraudulently, and/or
- law enforcement violated their constitutional rights.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “service dog fraud”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 365.7 charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “service dog fraud”?
Under California law, people are guilty of service dog fraud if they knowingly and fraudulently represent themselves, either verbally or in writing, to be the owner or trainer of a:
- guide dog,
- signal dog, or
- service dog.1
Some definitions here are helpful:
- “fraudulently” means that a person is acting with bad faith, dishonestly, a lack of integrity, or moral turpitude,2
- a “guide dog” is a trained seeing-eye dog for the blind,3
- a “signal dog” is a dog trained for alerting a deaf person, or anyone whose hearing is impaired, to intruders or sounds,4 and
- a “service dog,” is any dog that is trained to do work or perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.5
This statute does not apply to emotional support animals. Unlike trained service dogs, emotional support dogs are untrained dogs.
Note that a person’s disability can include both a physical disability and a mental disability.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a “disability” is a person who:
- has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
- has a history or record of such an impairment, or
- is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Examples of mental disabilities for which one could have a service dog include:
- an intellectual disability,
- an organic brain syndrome,
- an emotional mental illness (including post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD), or
- specific learning disabilities.6
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 365.7 charges?
Pet owners have the right to challenge an allegation under this law with a legal defense. Three common defenses include owners showing that:
- they own a legitimate service dog.
- they did not act fraudulently.
- the police violated one of their constitutional rights.
2.1. Real service dogs
This statute only applies to so-called “fake service dogs” or “fraudulent service dogs.” This means it is always a valid defense for an accused to show that his/her dog is a legitimate guide, signal, or service dog.
2.2. No fraudulent act
Recall that people are only guilty under this law if they act “fraudulently.” Further, this term has a precise legal definition. Therefore, accused owners can raise the defense that they did not act with a fraudulent intent. Perhaps, for example, a defendant suffered from a mental disability and honestly believed that his/her dog was a trained service dog.
2.3. Violation of a constitutional right
Defendants in these cases can always try to contest a charge by showing that police violated one of their constitutional rights. For example, maybe the police:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause,
- coerced a confession, or
- failed to read the defendant his/her Miranda rights.
In these situations, a defendant can use the violation to try and exclude certain evidence from the case or get charges dropped in their entirety.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of PC 365.7 is a misdemeanor offense.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.7
Note that a judge can award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time. If so, the performance of community service is typically a probation condition.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to service dog fraud. These are:
- misuse of handicap placards – VC 4461,
- burglary – PC 459, and
- pet insurance fraud – PC 550.
4.1 Misuse of handicap placards – VC 4461
Per Vehicle Code 4461, misuse of handicap placards is the crime where people misuse a handicap disability parking placard or license plate.
The offense is also referred to as “handicapped parking fraud.”
Note that while this crime is thought of as a type of fraud, a prosecutor does not have to prove that a defendant acted fraudulently to convict a person of the offense. This is not true with charges under PC 365.7. Fraudulent intent is one of the elements of the crime.
4.2 Burglary – PC 459
California law treats burglary as a more severe offense than service dog fraud. Burglary can lead to felony charges punishable by up to six years in state prison.
4.3 Pet insurance fraud – PC 550
People typically commit pet insurance fraud when they knowingly file a false claim on a pet insurance policy with an intent to defraud.
The crime is normally charged under Penal Code 550.
As with PC 365.7, people have to act with some type of fraudulent intent to be guilty under this statute.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- California Penal Code 365.7 PC.
- Back’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “fraudulent act.”
- California Penal Code 365.5 PC.
- See same.
- See same. According to the Air Carrier Access Act, a service dog is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. “Service dogs” are sometimes referred to as assistance dogs or assistance animals.
- California Government Code 1296 GC. Note that Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) provides service dogs to adults, children, and veterans with disabilities; and, facility dogs to professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice, and educational settings.
- California Penal Code 365.7 PC.