Dogfighting is a type of blood sport generally involving two or more dogs pitted against each other for the entertainment of spectators. In rural areas, dog fights may be staged in barns or outdoor pits, while in urban areas they often take place in garages, basements, warehouses, and abandoned buildings. The fight ends when one dog dies, a dog jumps out of the pit, or an owner calls off the fight.
As of 2008, participating in dog fighting is a felony offense in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, someone may be charged with violating dog fighting laws even if they do not enter a dog in a fight. State legislation regarding dog fighting can vary, however, some actions typically punished by dog fighting provisions include:
- Promoting, engaging in, or serving as an employee at a dog fighting event;
- Receiving money for admitting others to a dog fighting event;
- Selling, purchasing, possessing, or training a dog for dogfighting;
- Using, training, possessing a dog for the purpose of maltreating another domestic animal;
- Paying for admission to a dog fighting event; and
- Attending a dog fighting event.
In addition to state laws regarding dog fighting, the Animal Welfare Act also makes it a federal crime to sponsor or attend any kind of animal fighting event. However, these federal provisions are usually only used if illegal dog fighting activities operate across state lines.
Punishments for dog fighting violations can vary according to the severity of the charge and the jurisdiction where the violation is committed. However, all states hold that entering a dog in a dogfighting event or sponsoring a dog fighting event is a felony, which requires a minimum sentence of a year in jail as well as the potential for a hefty fine.
Lesser violations, such as spectating a dog fighting event, are generally lower class felonies or misdemeanors. For example, in California the penalty for keeping a dog for fighting purposes carries a jail sentence of 2-3 years and a maximum fine of $50,000. In addition, spectating a dog fighting event in California is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
The most famous criminal defendant convicted of dog fighting, NFL star Michael Vick, garnered national and worldwide attention. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to an operation on his property which involved dog fighting and gambling. Vick served 21 months in prison, then 2 months in home confinement.
If you have been charged with a dog fighting violation, you should contact a local criminal lawyer immediately. A skilled lawyer can review your case, raise available defenses, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and advocate for you in court.