Dog Fighting Laws

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 What Is Dog Fighting?

Dogfighting is a type of blood sport typically involving two or more dogs pitted against each other for the enjoyment of spectators.

In rural areas, dog fights may be orchestrated in barns or outdoor excavations, while in metropolitan areas, they often occur in garages, basements, warehouses, and deserted buildings. The fight ends when one dog dies, a dog jumps out of the pit, or an owner calls off the fight.

Is Dog Fighting Illegal?

As of 2008, participating in dogfighting is a felony offense in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nevertheless, someone may be charged with breaking dogfighting regulations even if they do not enter a dog in a fight. State legislation regarding dogfighting can differ.

Nonetheless, some actions normally punished by dogfighting provisions include:

  • Advertising, engaging in, or acting as an employee at a dogfighting event;
  • Accepting money for admitting others to a dogfighting event;
  • Selling, purchasing, owning, or training a dog for dogfighting;
  • Using, training, or possessing a dog to maltreat another domestic animal;
  • Paying for entry to a dogfighting event; and
  • Attending a dogfighting event.

In addition to state regulations regarding dogfighting, the Animal Welfare Act makes it a federal offense to fund or attend any animal fighting event. Yet, these federal conditions are usually only used if criminal dogfighting activities operate across state lines.

What Is the Punishment for Dog Fighting?

Penalties for dogfighting violations can differ according to the harshness of the charge and the jurisdiction where the offense is perpetrated. Nevertheless, all states hold that entering a dog in a dogfighting event or funding a dogfighting event is a felony, which requires a minimum sentence of a year in jail and the potential for a hefty fine.

Lesser violations, such as spectating a dogfighting event, are typically lower-class felonies or misdemeanors. For instance, in California, the punishment for keeping a dog for fighting objectives carries a jail sentence of 2-3 years and a maximum fine of $50,000. In addition, spectating a dogfighting event in California is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

The most well-known criminal defendant convicted of dogfighting, NFL superstar Michael Vick, garnered national and worldwide attention. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to an operation on his property that involved dogfighting and gambling. Vick served 21 months in prison, then two months in home confinement.

What Is a Misdemeanor Crime?

A misdemeanor crime is a kind of criminal offense that is more severe than a citation but less serious than felony charges. They are less severe to moderate crimes associated with less severe punishments. In most states, the primary distinguishing feature of a misdemeanor is that it is usually punishable by a sentence of one-year maximum in a county jail facility (not a state prison facility, which is generally reserved for felony charges).

A wide range of crimes is classified as misdemeanors. Misdemeanor crimes can vary from assault and battery to property crimes and other violations. State laws may vary widely regarding which crimes are classified as misdemeanors.

Some states have a category of crimes called “wobblers.” These crimes can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances (for example, the severity of the injury or the value of property damaged or stolen). Some states, such as California, Connecticut, and Virginia, have wobbler classes, whereas many states like Alabama do not have wobbler categories.

What Are “Unclassified” Misdemeanors?

Typically, most state criminal statutes will classify misdemeanors, such as Class A, Class B, Class 1, Class 2, etc. These are usually based on the gravity of the crime and the corresponding punishments for each class. Unclassified misdemeanors don’t fit neatly into any of the existing categories.

Some states may have a separate category called “Unclassified Misdemeanors,” which usually includes crimes that are too unusual, involve new legal issues, or are not very serious. Standards of unclassified misdemeanors might consist of petty gambling offenses, less-serious misdemeanors like littering, and various traffic violations. Again, these will depend on individual state laws.

What Is a Gross Misdemeanor?

Gross misdemeanors are criminal violations that are more severe than regular misdemeanors. These will usually result in more stringent penalties than usual. The definition or classification of gross misdemeanors depends on state regulations.

While gross misdemeanors are more severe in nature, they are still usually deemed less severe than felony crimes. Crimes classified as gross misdemeanors in one state might not be deemed severe crimes in other states.

What Is the Punishment for a Misdemeanor?

Criminal punishments for misdemeanor crimes can involve a mix of both jail time (in a county jail facility, not a state prison facility) and criminal fines. The jail sentences will usually carry a sentence of one-year maximum. Criminal penalties are typically capped at $1,000, though this can change by state.

What Are the Legal Penalties Associated with Each Misdemeanor Class?

Legal punishments for misdemeanors usually hinge on the classification of the misdemeanor. Classes of misdemeanors are associated with set penalties in most circumstances. For example, a typical penal code might suggest the following corrections for each misdemeanor class:

  • Class A or 1: Up to one year in county jail or fines of up to $2,500;
  • Class B or 2: Up to six months in jail or fines of up to $1,000;
  • Class C or 3: Up to 3 months in jail or fines of up to $500;
  • Class D or 4: Up to 30 days in jail or fines of up to $250.

Again, each state may have other names for the classes. Punishments will depend on state regulations and the circumstances surrounding each case. A typical example of this is that repeat offenders will usually face higher misdemeanor penalties than first-time offenders for the same time of the crime. In some circumstances, states may specifically list a specific punishment for a particular crime, even if classified in a set misdemeanor category.

Are There Any Defenses to Dog Fighting Misdemeanors?

Criminal defenses to misdemeanor crimes (including attending a dog fight) can exist and may apply in many situations. The type of defense raised will depend on the type of misdemeanor.

Some common defenses to misdemeanors include:

  • Lack of Evidence: All crimes require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot establish the elements of a crime, or if they lack sufficient evidence for proof, it may serve as a defense;
  • Intoxication: It can sometimes be a defense if the defendant was intoxicated at the crime time. This is a common defense in cases where it must be shown that the defendant acted intentionally (the argument is that the intoxication affected their ability to act intentionally);
  • Coercion/duress: If the defendant was forced to commit the crime under threat of harm or injury, it could serve as a defense to some misdemeanors (for instance, if a person is held at knifepoint and forced to attend a dog fight or forced to enter their dog into a dog fight)

Various other defenses may be raised. These will depend on a host of factors, including individual state laws.

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

If you have been charged with a dogfighting violation, you should immediately contact a local criminal lawyer. A skilled attorney can review your case, raise available defenses, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and advocate for you in court.

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