Dog Bite / Dog Attack Crimes

Owning a pet is one of the great joys in life for many Californians, but there are laws that could turn that joy to misfortune. Pet owners should be familiar with the circumstances of pet ownership and care that can result in criminal charges. An experience criminal defense attorney can successfully raise a variety of defenses to these charges.

Failure to Control a Dangerous Animal Under Your Ownership or Care

You may recall the case some years ago in San Francisco where two dogs under the care of a husband and wife attacked and killed a woman who lived in their apartment building. The dogs, trained to be vicious, attacked the neighbor in the hallway of the apartment building shared by the couple. Both the husband and wife were convicted on manslaughter charges.

It is a violation of the Penal Code when a domesticated animal under your custody or control kills or causes serious bodily injury to a person. (Penal Code §399.) (The statute specifies “serious” bodily injury a term that can include anything from a wound that requires extensive sutures to injuries that put the victim in the hospital.)

To be guilty of this offense, you must know the animal has a propensity to be dangerous or vicious and you failed to keep the animal under ordinary care. Furthermore, the person attacked by the animal must have taken reasonable precautions under the circumstances (for example, the violation might not be charged if the person attacked had provoked the animal). Note that section 399 applies to any domesticated animal, not just dogs.

A charge of Penal Code section 399 will almost often be accompanied by a more serious charge such as assault or manslaughter.  In the case mentioned above, the owners of the dogs were charged with violation of Penal Code section 399, involuntary manslaughter, and second-degree murder (ultimately being convicted on the involuntary manslaughter charges).

A violation of Penal Code section 399 may result in a stiff penalty, not to mention additional penalties that might be found by accompanying charges. It is always a felony if the animal kills a person, punishable by up to three years in prison. If the animal causes serious injury, the offense may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor (wobbler offense) with penalties ranging from fines and up to six months in county jail up to three years in prison (if convicted as a felony offense). No matter how the offense is charged, the offender will surely be ordered to pay restitution to the victim for the victim’s economic losses (medical expenses, loss of work, attorney expenses, and so on).

Your Orange County dog bite defense attorney will examine your case for the many available defenses. For example, if a dog owner was unaware that his or her dog had a propensity to be dangerous, there is no violation of this statute. Dogs, who have never exhibited viciousness at all, have been known to suddenly attack a person when they have never been anything but friendly to humans. The owner of such a dog could defend a section 399 charge because he or she did not know the dog could be dangerous.  Or for example, a dog owner could have the dog securely leashed and under control but the dog attacks not only its owner, knocking the owner to the ground, and then escapes to attack another person. Another defense may be that the person attacked failed to use reasonable precautions. For example, if someone jumps over your fence (trespassing) and is attacked by your dog, the victim failed to use reasonable precautions. Note that this defense does not apply if the victim is under the age of five or incapable of taking reasonable precautions due to a disability.

Injury Caused by a Dog Trained to Fight, Attack, or Kill

Closely related to Penal Code section 399 is Penal Code section 399.5, which makes it unlawful to own a dog that is trained to fight, attack, or kill if the dog bites a person on two separate occasions or on one occasion if the bite causes a substantial bodily injury. This offense applies if the owner of the dog fails to use ordinary care in the control of the dog. The statute is different from section 399 in that it applies to dogs trained to attack and specifically applies to dog bites, whereas section 399 does not have this requirement. In other respects, the two laws are similar.

A violation of section 399.5 may be charged as misdemeanor or a felony. A felony conviction is punishable by up to four years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. A misdemeanor conviction carries penalties of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000. As with section 399, restitution to the victim will also be ordered.

To be convicted of this crime, the evidence must show that the dog owner or one who had custody or control of the dog knew the dog was dangerous and either willfully allowed the dog to run free or failed to use reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm the dog might cause. And as with the related crime under section 399, if the victim did not take reasonable precautions under the circumstances. The defenses to this crime are the same as those under section 399. Additionally, if the dog was not a trained attack dog, the charge may be defended on that ground. It is entirely possible to be charged under both Penal Code section 399, 399.5 and as well as additional charges related to the injury or death. An experienced Orange County criminal and dog bite lawyer will raise every defense available.

Contact Orange County Dog Bite / Dog Attack Crime Defense Attorney William Weinberg for Immediate Help

If you have been charged with a dog bite/dog attack crime, Orange County criminal defense attorney can help. Contact Attorney Weinberg for a complimentary consultation where he will review the facts of your case and advise you of potential defenses. He can be reached at his Irvine office by calling (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at

Client Reviews
He was open, honest and compassionate (qualities you don't always find in an attorney) and his credentials proved that he is more than qualified to handle this complicated case. JoAnn H.
Not only did [my case] get resolved with great efficiency, [Mr. Weinberg and his team] were very open with me and kept the lines of communication flowing which I appreciated greatly. Ryan T.
There are many things about our conversations that told me that bill was an honest guy and knew what he was talking about. Amy C.