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I'm thinking of adopting a pit bull. But will I face criminal charges if it bites someone?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

Pit bulls--and certain other large dog breeds like Rottweilers and German shepherds--have a bad reputation, in part because of their popularity with people involved in dogfighting.

If you adopt one from a shelter or rescue, your neighbors may give you dirty looks. Your homeowner's insurance company may even cancel your policy.

And what if your dog happens to bite someone? Could you go to jail?

California dog bite law, in Penal Code 399 PC, does impose criminal liability for failing to control a dangerous dog or another animal. But this law applies only in fairly extreme circumstances. In order for a dog owner to be guilty of this crime, all of the following must be true:

  1. The dog owner knew the dog was dangerous (i.e., it had displayed aggressive behavior in the past);
  2. The dog owner willfully let the dog run free or else failed to take reasonable care to keep the dog contained;
  3. The person attacked by the dog either was killed or suffered a "serious" bodily injury; AND
  4. The person attacked by the dog either was a small child or else was taking reasonable precautions in dealing with the dog.

In other words, most minor dog bite incidents will not lead to criminal charges if your dog had not shown any aggressive tendencies before the incident. But of course you do have to worry about civil lawsuits and/or actions by animal control officers.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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