Fri 18 Nov, 2022 Criminal Defense

Is it a Crime if Your Dog Bites Someone in New York?

In some circumstances, you can be charged with a crime in New York if your dog bites someone. Typically, cases involving dog bites are civil, not criminal, proceedings, which means that a victim sues the dog owner in civil court in an effort to get money or other relief from the owner of the dog.

For instance, if a person was badly injured after being attacked by a person’s dog, he might sue that person in civil court to get the dog owner to pay his medical bills and any lost income from missing work due to the dog bite injuries. In that situation, the court would determine whether the dog owner is responsible to the injured party and therefore must pay for the costs incurred by the victim.

Although most dog bite cases are civil suits between individual people, New York Agricultural and Markets Law Section 123 establishes criminal penalties against owners of dogs that bite people in certain situations. Although criminal charges against dog owners whose dogs attack people are rare and certainly less common than animal cruelty cases, such charges can and do occur.

Criminal Charges for Dog Bites

New York Agricultural and Markets Law Section 123 provides criminal penalties, including jail, in two situations when a person’s dog attacks another person. First, a person faces a class B misdemeanor when he negligently permits a “dangerous dog” to bite another person. Second, a person faces a class A misdemeanor when his “dangerous dog” unjustifiably kills another person. As stated, both crimes require the dog to be a “dangerous dog,” which is a legal determination made by the court. If you are arrested after your dog bites someone, and your dog has not been previously deemed a dangerous dog, then you may have an actionable claim against the police for false arrest, because your dog must have been previously deemed a dangerous dog for you to be criminally liable.

What is a “Dangerous Dog?”

The court will label a dog as a “dangerous dog” when a person makes a complaint about a dog and the court holds a hearing and concludes that the dog in question is dangerous.

When a person witnesses an attack or threatened attack by a dog, he or she can file a formal complaint in court. Once a complaint is filed, the judge will immediately determine if there is probable cause to believe that the dog in question is dangerous. If so, the judge will issue an order that authorizes a dog control officer to seize the dog until after the court has a full hearing on the matter, which should occur within five days of the filing of the complaint.

At the hearing, the complainant must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the dog is a “dangerous dog.” If the judge rules at the hearing that the dog is dangerous, the judge may order the owner to do an assortment of things, including obtaining behavioral evaluations, getting professional training, muzzling the dog in public, and so on.

If the dog attacked a person and caused serious physical injury or death, the judge has the right to order humane euthanasia.

If the dog attacked a person because the person was threatening the dog or its owner, then it will not be declared a “dangerous dog.”

Negligently Permitting a Dangerous Dog to Attack

If the owner of a dog that has been previously declared a “dangerous dog” negligently allows his or her dog to bite a person, and that bite causes serious physical injury, then that person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

For instance, if your dog has previously been declared by a judge to be a “dangerous dog,” and a person walks up to your dog on the street and your dog lunges at the person and shows its teeth, you should immediately pull back your dog to prevent him from biting. If you don’t do that and your dog bites the person and causes serious physical injury—for instance, broken bones and cuts requiring many stitches—then you will likely be found guilty of negligently permitting a “dangerous dog” to attack a person. As a class B misdemeanor, you can face a jail sentence of up to 90 days in jail and/or up to three thousand dollars in fines.

Fatal Attack by a Dangerous Dog

In the rare and tragic event that your dog kills a person, you may face criminal penalties, including jail. If your dog has previously been found by the court to be a “dangerous dog,” and it kills or causes the death of a person without justification, then the owner shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Importantly, a person does not need to be negligent in order to be found guilty of this crime. So long as the dog was previously deemed a “dangerous dog” and kills someone, then you will be found guilty of the class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison. 

How to Protect Yourself from Criminal Charges if you have a Dangerous Dog

If you have a dog that bites someone, you will not be held criminally liable for it unless it has previously been deemed a “dangerous dog.” So, it’s key to prevent your dog from being deemed a “dangerous dog” in the first place. To do that, if you know that your dog has aggressive tendencies, you should do everything you can to avoid situations that may result in someone initiating a hearing against your dog. For instance, keep your dog on a short leash when walking close to other people, don’t let strangers pet your dog, create distance between your dog and things that you know may trigger it, have a plan in place for visitors who come to your home, and work on training your dog. The more that you can do to prevent your dog from being labeled a “dangerous dog,” the more likely you can avoid criminal liability and the more likely you can keep your dog and others safe.

Need Help? Reach Out to an NYC Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you’ve been charged with a crime after your dog attacked someone, give NYC criminal defense lawyer Cody Warner a call for a free consultation or contact us online. Cody is a dog owner who can help you strategically navigate the criminal justice system.