Penal Code 365.7 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of service dog fraud. You commit this offense if you make a false claim that your dog is a medical service dog in order to take the dog or keep the dog at an apartment or business establishment.
While PC 365.7 addresses service dog fraud, Assembly Bill 468 is a relatively new law that imposes a $500 fine if you fraudulently misrepresent an emotional support dog as a service dog. Further, California Health and Safety Code 122318 imposes certain requirements on health care practitioners before they can document that a person needs an emotional support dog.
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 them 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.
- selling an emotional support dog without giving notice that the animal is not a guide dog or signal dog (a violation of AB 468).
You can contest charges of service dog fraud or emotional support animal fraud with a legal defense. A few common defenses include you showing that:
- you were falsely accused,
- you did not act fraudulently, and/or
- law enforcement violated one of your constitutional rights.
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A violation of Assembly Bill 468 can result in a $500 fine for a first-time offense. If you are a health care practitioner that violates Health and Safety Code 122318, you may be subject to discipline from your licensing board.
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?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “service dog fraud”?
Under California law, you are guilty of service dog fraud if you knowingly and fraudulently represent yourself, either verbally or in writing, to be the owner or trainer of a:
- guide dog,
- signal dog, or
- trained service dog.1
Some definitions here are helpful:
- “fraudulently” means that you are acting with bad faith, 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
Note that with service dogs, 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 disability 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 you 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
1.1. What about fraud regarding the sale of emotional support animals?
Assembly Bill 468 is a new law that addresses the fraudulent misrepresentation of emotional support dogs as service dogs.7 The law went into effect on January 1, 2022.
There are two main parts to AB 468. The first says that a person or business that sells or provides a dog for use as an emotional support dog must provide a customer with written notice that:
- the dog does not have the special training required to qualify as a guide, signal, or service dog, and
- the dog is not entitled to the legal rights and privileges given to a guide, signal, or service dog.8
The second part of the law states that a person or business must give this same type of notice upon selling or providing a certificate, tag, vest, leash, or harness for an emotional support animal.9
For purposes of this new legislation, an “emotional support dog” is a dog that provides its owner with a sense of:
- companionship, or
- lessened anxiety.10
1.2. Are there requirements for health care practitioners?
Yes. California Health and Safety Code 122318 imposes certain requirements on health care professionals before they can recommend that a person needs an emotional support dog.
For example, the law specifies that before documenting a need for an emotional support animal, the health care practitioner must:
- possess a valid and effective health care practitioner license,
- establish a client-provider relationship with the person asking for an emotional support dog for at least 30 days prior to documenting a need for the animal,
- complete a clinical evaluation of the person regarding the need for an emotional support dog, and
- provide a verbal or written notice to the person that knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as a guide, signal, or service dog is a misdemeanor under PC 365.7.11
2. Are there legal defenses?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest accusations of service dog fraud or fraud regarding emotional support animals.
Three common defenses include attorney showing that:
- you were falsely accused.
- you did not commit a fraudulent act.
- police officers violated one of your constitutional rights.
2.1. Falsely accused
Sometimes people get accused of service dog fraud or emotional support animal fraud even though they did not commit an illegal act. This is a false accusation.
An example is when someone accuses you by means of mistaken identity. No matter the reason for the false accusation, you can challenge a fraud allegation by showing that you were falsely accused.
2.2. No fraudulent act
Recall that you are only guilty under these laws if you act “fraudulently.” Further, this term has a precise legal definition. Therefore, you can raise the defense that you did not act with a fraudulent intent.
2.3. Violation of a constitutional right
You can always try to contest a charge by showing that police violated one of your constitutional rights. For example, maybe the police:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- stopped or arrested you without probable cause,
- coerced a confession, or
- failed to read you your Miranda rights.
In these situations, you 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 criminal law 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 $1,000.12
A person or business that violates AB 468’s notice requirement is subject to a civil penalty. The specific penalty is:
- a $500 fine for the first violation,
- a $1,000 fine for the second violation, and
- a $2,500 fine for a third violation.13
A health care practitioner that violates Health and Safety Code 122318 may be subject to discipline from the health care practitioner’s licensing board.
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 you acted fraudulently to convict you 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
Per Penal Code 459, burglary is the crime where people enter a commercial or residential structure or locked vehicle with the intent to commit:
California law treats burglary as a more severe offense than service dog fraud and emotional support animal 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 and emotional support animal fraud, you 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.
Our defense lawyers also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County.
- California Penal Code 365.7 PC.
- Black’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 Assembly Bill 468.
- See same.
- See same.
- See same.
- California Health and Safety Code 122318 HC.
- California Penal Code 365.7 PC.
- See same.