You might be aware that you can be sued if your dog attacks someone, but did you know that in Michigan you may also be charged with a crime? If your dog mauls or attacks another person—or even another animal—you could face penalties ranging from a small fine to years in prison. However, with an experienced Michigan dog bite lawyer working beside you, you may be able to be found not guilty or receive a reduction in your charge or penalties.
In Michigan, statutes 287.321 through 287.323 concern attacks by dogs and other dangerous animals. These statutes define a dangerous animal as one that attacks or bites a person or another dog — so long as that dog is on the property or under the control of its owner.
Under Michigan law, a court will not consider an animal that attacks a person or a dog as a dangerous animal in the following situations:
- When the person being bitten or attacked is trespassing upon the property of the animal’s owner
- When the animal bites or attacks someone who is provoking or tormenting the animal
- When the animal bites or attacks someone who is assaulting the owner or another person who is acting lawfully
The statutes define provoking as willful conduct that would reasonably cause an average dog or animal to react aggressively. Tormenting consists of acts or omissions that cause unjustifiable pain, suffering, and distress to an animal that would likely cause it to attack.
What Happens to Dangerous Animals
If someone claims that your dog has caused a serious injury to or the death of another person or a dog, a court will summon you to appear and justify why your dog should not be destroyed. Over the course of an official hearing, you would need to demonstrate that your dog fits into one of the three exceptions to the definition of a dangerous animal listed above.
Until you can convince a court that your animal is not dangerous, you must pay for it to be kept by an animal control authority such as a humane society, a licensed veterinarian, or a boarding kennel.
If you fail to prove that the animal is not dangerous, a court will order the animal to be killed at your own expense when:
- The animal has caused serious injury or death or a person or a dog, OR
- There is a likelihood that the animal will cause serious injury or death to a person or dog in the future
If the court concludes that the animal is dangerous but has not caused serious injury or death to a person, the court may order any of the following:
- The dog must be tattooed and registered with the Michigan Department of Agriculture at your expense
- You must take steps to keep the animal from escaping—or people from entering—your property
- The dog must be sterilized
- You must take out insurance to cover any future harm caused by the animal
- Any other action necessary to protect the public.
The Penalties for the Animal’s Owner
If your dog causes the death of another person, you may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $7500, and restitution to the victim’s family.
If your dangerous animal attacks and seriously injures another person, you may be guilty of a felony punishable by any combination of 4 years of imprisonment, a fine of $2,000.00, or 500 hours of community service.
When the dangerous animal attacks or bites a person and causes an injury that is not serious, you may be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by any combination of 90 days in jail, a fine between $250.00 and $500.00, and 240 hours of community service work.
If you allow an animal previously found to be dangerous to run loose, you may be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by any combination of 90 days in jail, a fine between $250.00 and $500.00, or 240 hours of community service.
Finally, the court may order a person convicted under this section to pay the costs of the prosecution. And under the laws of criminal restitution, a court may order the animal’s owner to compensate the victim for his or her injuries — independently of any liability that may result from a civil lawsuit.
How a Skilled Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer Can Help
If you’re facing dangerous animal charges, Michigan dog bite lawyer Maurice Davis may be able to invoke several defenses for your case, which can include:
- Asking a judge to declare evidence against you inadmissible in court when it was obtained without a warrant or through illegal means
- Challenging the detention of your animal based on the court or the prosecution’s failure to follow procedure
- Proving that your dog meets an exception to the definition of a “dangerous animal,” such as when your dog bites a person who is provoking or tormenting it
- Demonstrating that your dog did not cause the complainant’s injuries
- Presenting evidence to demonstrate why the circumstances of your case show that you deserve a more lenient charge or penalty
According to the Michigan Supreme Court, judges can now decide what penalties are “reasonable” for a conviction, independently of the sentencing limits and requirements outlined in the criminal statutes. So your sentence may or may not end up being in the range described in this article.
Michigan criminal defense lawyer Maurice Davis can explain what you can expect from the charges you’re facing. If you’ve been charged with owning a dangerous animal, you can call Davis Law Group today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation.