Failure to Control a Dangerous Animal
Failure to control a dangerous animal is a criminal offense as defined by California Penal Code 399.
An offense under 399 PC occurs when an owner fails to utilize reasonable care in keeping their animal or lets the animal run free and another person suffers serious harm or death as a result. This law applies to numerous types of animals, but dogs are the most common animals involved in 399 PC offenses.
Failure to control a dangerous animal is a criminal offense as defined by California Penal Code 399. This crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances and other factors.
An offense under 399 PC occurs when an owner fails to utilize reasonable and ordinary care in keeping their animal or willfully lets the animal run free and another person suffers serious bodily harm or death as a result.
This law applies to numerous types of animals. While all wild animals are considered dangerous, domesticated animals are only considered dangerous if they exhibit aggressive behavior. The most common animals involved in 399 PC offenses are dogs.
Elements of the crime of failure to control a dangerous animal
To obtain a successful conviction under 399 PC, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant owned, controlled, or had custody of a dangerous animal.
The defendant knew the animal was dangerous.
The defendant willfully permitted the animal to run free or failed to use ordinary care in keeping the animal.
The animal caused serious bodily injury to or killed another person.
The victim took all reasonable and ordinary precautions to protect themselves from the dangerous animal. Note: this element does not apply to a victim under the age of five.
The standard of ordinary care
An offense under this law hinges on the concept of “ordinary care,” which means taking sensible measures to prevent harm to others which could have reasonably been foreseen.
For example, leaving an aggressive dog unsupervised in a front yard with a four-foot high fence that the dog has previously jumped over would not meet the standard of ordinary care. The dog is already known to be aggressive and capable of jumping the fence, so the owner should realize leaving the dog in the front yard creates a risk of harm to others.
Serious bodily injury
Not all injuries caused by a dangerous animal constitute serious bodily injury. A shallow bite which requires only basic first aid would not meet this definition. Generally, serious bodily injury refers to significant impairment of a person’s physical condition. Examples include, but are not limited to concussion, loss of consciousness, a broken bone, a large wound that requires sutures, or serious disfigurement such as facial scarring.
Additional offenses that are commonly charged along with 399 PC include:
192(b) PC – Involuntary manslaughter
597.5 PC – Dogfighting
372/373a PC – Creating a public nuisance
399.5 PC – Negligent control of an attack dog
Penalties for failure to control a dangerous animal
399 PC is a wobbler offense. If the victim is injured, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with either a misdemeanor or a felony. But if the victim is killed, the offense will always be charged as a felony.
A misdemeanor conviction for 399 PC may result in probation, up to six months in jail, and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction may result in formal probation, 16 months to three years in state prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.
Legal defenses for failure to control a dangerous animal
As with any criminal charge, it is important to seek the assistance of a qualified and experienced attorney who can provide legal advice that is applicable to the unique circumstances of a case.
There are two common legal defenses to a charge of failing to control a dangerous animal under 399 PC:
If the defendant was not aware that the animal was dangerous and/or used ordinary care in keeping the animal, the defendant should be found not guilty.
If the victim was capable of taking reasonable precautions to protect themselves from an otherwise properly secured dangerous animal but did not do so, one of the required elements of the crime does not exist, and the defendant is not guilty.