California law is stringent against dogfighting—to the extent that any activity connected with dog fighting, including being a spectator, is a crime in the state.
The laws against dogfighting are embodied in California Penal Code 597.5 PC. If you are convicted of a crime under this law, you could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
This statute makes it a crime to own, possess, keep or train a dog to have it engage in dog fighting. The law, as noted, also makes it a crime to be present where a dogfight occurs.
Penal Code 597.5 PC says, “any person who (1) owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog, with the intent they will engage in an exhibition of fighting with another dog. (2) For amusement or gain, it causes any dog to fight with another dog or causes them to injure each other. (3) Permits any act to be done on any premises under their control, or aids or abets that act is guilty of a felony and is punishable by imprisonment by 16 months, two or three years, or by a fine up to $50,00, or by both a fine and imprisonment.”
Further, anyone who is “(b) knowingly present, as a spectator, for an exhibition of the fighting of dogs” is guilty of a crime punishable by up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or by both a fine and imprisonment.
Most people are familiar with the famous dogfighting case of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who was indicted for a federal crime because his operation crossed state lines. Let's review these laws more closely below.
Overview of Penal Code 597.5 PC
PC 597.5 has a broad reach for outlawing dogfighting activities, making all aspects of dogfighting illegal. Under the law, any of the following behaviors are a crime:
- Owning, possessing, keeping, or training any dog to engage the dog in dog fighting,
- Causing any dogs to fight or injure each other for amusement or gain,
- Permitting dogs intended for fighting to be trained or kept on a property you control,
- Permitting acts of dogfighting to occur on a property you control,
- Otherwise aiding and abetting any act of dog fighting,
- Knowingly and willingly being present at a dogfight or at a place where dogfight preparations are being made.
In short, being connected with dogfighting activities in nearly any way, shape, or form is a crime under PC 597.5, whether or not you are directly involved in the training or fighting off the dogs. Even showing up for a dogfight can land you in jail.
What Are Some Examples of This Crime?
EXAMPLE 1: Jane's boyfriend Zack buys a dog that has been trained for fighting. Not having room for it at his apartment, Zack asks Jane to keep the dog at her house because she has a gated backyard. Jane agrees.
Both Zack and Jane can be charged under PC 597.5 even if the dog never engages in a fight—Zack because he owns a dog trained explicitly for dogfights, and Jane, for permitting the dog to be kept on her property.
EXAMPLE 2: Darren has a farm outside town with some unused acreage. His friend, Tony, thinks this would be an excellent site to clear out as a dogfighting arena.
Darren isn't actively involved in the fights themselves, but he allows Tony to set up the site for dogfights in exchange for a cut of the money. Both Tony and Darren are guilty under PC 597.5.
EXAMPLE 3: Sarah is at a party with some friends. They are all in the backyard when they hear barking and shouting from the house next door.
They peer over the fence and see two dogs fighting in the yard while a group of people is cheering them on. Sarah and her friends go inside and call the police.
Sarah and the party are NOT guilty under PC 597.5 because even though they were present at a dogfight scene, they were not willing spectators.
What Are the Related Crimes to Dogfighting?
- Penal Code 597 PC – animal cruelty,
- Penal Code 597a PC - cruelly transporting an animal,
- Penal Code 597.7 PC – leaving an animal unattended in a car,
- Penal Code 399 PC – failing to control dangerous animals,
- Health and Safety Code 122335 HS – unlawful tethering a dog,
- The Animal Welfare Act,
- The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act,
- The Humane Slaughter Act,
- The Twenty-Eight Hour Law.
What Are the Penalties for 597.5 PC?
Nearly all violations of PC 597.5 are charged as felony offenses, which may be punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.
The only exception is if you are a willing spectator at a dogfighting event or where dogfight preparations are taking place. In this case, you could be charged with a lesser misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail and fines up to $5000.
In addition to these penalties, any conviction under California's dogfighting law can result in the seizure of any assets or proceeds connected with dogfighting activities. This may include real estate, dogfighting equipment, personal property, and any profits derived from dogfighting.
This means not only could you forfeit any money you made from this illegal industry, but if you hosted a dogfight on your land, the courts could seize the land itself.
What Are the Common Defenses?
Depending on your case's specific facts and circumstances, there are several possible defenses to charges under Penal Code 597.5. Some of the more common defenses are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you didn't know the dog was being used for fighting. To be guilty of this crime, you must have known that the dog in question was being used for fighting. For example, if you housed a dog without knowing its training or purpose, you are not guilty of the crime.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not a willing spectator at the dogfight. For example, you did not voluntarily watch or participate in a dogfight but only happened to be present when one occurred.
Perhaps we can argue that you did not own, keep, or train the dog. Proving your connection to the dog used for fighting is a crucial element in the prosecution's case. The problem is that most dogs used in fighting are unlicensed, which makes it harder to prove ownership. Your attorney may use this fact to contend that you neither owned nor controlled the dog in question.
Perhaps there was an unlawful search and seizure. Suppose the police obtain evidence against you through an illegal search and seizure, such as entering a dogfight site without a valid warrant or probable cause. In that case, that evidence might not be used against you in court.
Contact our law firm to review all the details and legal options if you have been accused of dog fighting. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for an initial case consultation via phone or contact form.