Penal Code 399 PC - Failure to Control a Dangerous Dog or Animal
Penal Code 399 PC makes it a crime in California to own or keep a dangerous animal, fail to take steps to control it, and somebody is seriously injured or killed as a result. A felony conviction carries up to three years in jail.
In other words, under California law, animal owners are criminally responsible for injuries or damages caused by their animals. Further, victims can pursue a personal injury lawsuit against pet owners, such as cases of dog bites.
Suppose you own a dog or another animal, knowing it tends to be dangerous, and somebody is injured or killed. In that case, you could face criminal and civil legal issues.
Simply put, if you own or keep a dangerous animal and do not take reasonable steps to control them, and they cause injury to another person, then you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges (wobbler).
PC 399 says, “(a) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large or not kept with ordinary care, kills any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a felony.”
(b) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large.... causes serious bodily injury to any human being…. is guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony.”
Notably, an animal is considered dangerous if it's domesticated or wild, with a tendency to be vicious or willfully hurt people.
What Does the Law Say?
Simply put, PC 399 says that you are considered guilty if you have custody or control of a dangerous animal (mischievous), and when failing to control it reasonably, the animal causes serious bodily injury or death to another person.
Elements of the crime
To convict you, prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all the “elements of the crime,” including that you:
- Had custody or control of an animal;
- Knew it was dangerous;
- Willfully allowed the animal to run free, OR
- Failed to exercise ordinary care to control it, and
- As a result, the animal caused serious bodily injury or death.
The phrase "ordinary care" means taking reasonable measures to ensure a dangerous animal cannot harm anyone.
Under the law, a "dangerous animal" is a domesticated animal with vicious tendencies or a wild animal. Suppose the animal had no prior signs of being aggressive. In that case, you could still be convicted under PC 399 because you are responsible for controlling it.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 399 PC failing to control a dangerous dog or animal, such as the following:
- Penal Code 597 PC – animal cruelty;
- Penal Code 597.5 PC – dogfighting;
- Penal Code 399.5 PC – owning dogs trained to fight;
- Penal Code 192(b) PC – involuntary manslaughter.
What Are the Penalties?
Suppose you are convicted of violating pc 399. In that case, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the case details, but serious injuries or death will be filed as a felony. The penalties include the following:
- A misdemeanor carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine:
- A felony carries up to three years in prison and up to a$10,000 fine.
What Are the Defenses for PC 399?
If you are accused of PC 399, prosecutors must prove all the elements of the above crime. Thus, a California criminal defense lawyer could attempt to challenge one or more components, as discussed below.
Maybe we can argue that you were not the owner of the animal or were not responsible for controlling it. Perhaps we can say you were unaware that the animal was dangerous, but this defense only applies to domesticated animals with no prior history of being aggressive.
Maybe we can argue that you did exercise ordinary care in controlling the animal, meaning that you did everything possible to restrain a dangerous animal.
Maybe you told the alleged victim the animal could be dangerous, but they failed to act on the warning. Suppose you made a reasonable effort to protect the victim from harm. In that case, the court is more likely to give you some leniency.
Suppose the victim simply failed to take reasonable precautions. In that case, you might be able to avoid a conviction, but this type of defense does not apply to children under five.
Maybe we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges, case dismissal, or convince them not to file formal criminal charges (DA reject). We offer a free case evaluation by phone or through the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark have offices in Los Angeles, CA.