As any mail carrier can attest, aggressive dogs can be hazardous. Most courts would agree, as there is a trend in judicial findings that, depending on the circumstances, dogs can be every bit as dangerous as guns and knives.
Committing a crime with a dangerous or deadly weapon can count as an aggravating circumstance, earning a defendant a longer sentence. Courts always treat items like guns, knives, and axes as deadly weapons, but even ordinary objects can qualify as such if used to threaten or seriously injure someone.
Dogs aren’t considered inherently dangerous or deadly, but they can be designated as weapons if defendants use them during crimes like robbery, assault, and even rape. For instance, in a Michigan case, a court found that a dog constituted a dangerous weapon after a man ordered his K-9 to attack employees of a supermarket. The employees had followed the defendant out of the store on suspicion that he had stolen from them. After he commanded his dog, it lunged at one of the store employees. The dog owner was deemed properly convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon. (People v. Kay, 121 Mich.App.438 (1982).)
If a dog inflicts serious harm, then a court is more likely to find it to be a deadly weapon. But if the dog was used merely to threaten a victim, then the prosecution must typically prove that the hound was capable of seriously injuring or killing someone—if it was, it is a dangerous or deadly weapon.
Courts have considered the following evidence in determining whether a dog qualifies as a dangerous or deadly weapon:
In a California case, for example, an appellate court considered a variety of evidence about a defendant’s pit bulls. The court heard expert testimony about the nature of the breed, its strength, and its ability to cause serious injury or death. The court then analyzed the defendant’s and his pit bulls’ actions.
The man used the dogs to threaten officers who were arresting his mother; he grabbed the animals’ collars and ordered them to attack. The pit bulls were extremely agitated. The officers were forced to use pepper spray to subdue them. Based on this evidence, the court found that the defendant was properly convicted of using a deadly weapon to resist arrest. (People v. Henderson, 76 Cal.App.4th 453 (1999).)
If you’ve been charged with assault or any other crime, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Only such a lawyer can properly advise you regarding your options and protect your rights.