When Animals Cause Serious Legal Trouble
Owners of companion animals or horses are often unaware that they can become defendants facing criminal charges when their animals get in trouble. For example, a dog owner may not have taken seriously the letters they received from the local government or authority with regard to their dog barking. A horse owner may ignore warnings made by others at the barn. A person may have ignored zoning requirements regarding feral cats in his garage or failed to follow all requirements when their dog was declared potentially dangerous. Owners can face criminal charges for something as simple as dropping a leash when the owner tripped, or someone unexpectedly opening a door, with the result being that the family dog became loose and bites or attacks another.
Animal Misdemeanor Charges
When your pet is in trouble, the letters and notices you receive are often difficult and hard to interpret. A person receiving paperwork about a dangerous dog proceeding may not realize that they are or will be subject to more than one proceeding, including a misdemeanor criminal charge. Because the animal owner is not expecting both a criminal action and a dangerous dog designation, the owner may miss a pertinent deadline. The individual may not contemplate how their behavior following the incident could increase the likelihood of a criminal prosecution. It is for this reason that it is best to let Barbara help you assess the situation, make a good impression, and also assist you in avoiding escalating serious consequences.
When you are subject to a misdemeanor, it is usually in the form of a citation of Summons and Complaint. The document will state the offense you are charged with and the date and time of your initial court appearance. Unless a waiver is permitted, Barbara will accompany you to your first court appearance, where she will seek a complete copy of the prosecutor’s file, help you enter a not guilty plea, and assist you in filling out necessary forms. She will also explore settlement opportunities for you.
Barbara will also help you decide whether to opt for a court or jury trial. If you elect a jury trial, six members of your community will sit on your jury. Following the initial court appearance, you will then have a pretrial conference and trial. If you request a jury trial, generally, the pretrial conference is scheduled in advance of the trial date, which gives Barbara an opportunity to advance for a plea deal on your behalf. This plea-bargaining opportunity does not occur if a bench trial before a judge is selected. The state has the obligation of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and you are entitled to a presumption of innocence.
General good advice, until you can meet with Barbara, is to confine your animal, be courteous and cooperative in sharing your contact information with others, collect the names and contact information of eyewitnesses, and if a dog bite is involved, be conscientious to get your dog an immediate rabies vaccine and other necessary veterinary care. Be aware that your animal may be subject to quarantine, too. Let Barbara help you at the beginning of this slippery slope.