Review of California Penal Code 365.7 PC
A service dog is a trained dog meant to help someone with medical issues. Service dogs can help blind people function more generally within society and help others as emotional support animals. They are not considered pets in the traditional sense of the word and are workers helping their owners function. There are many places where pets are not allowed, but service dogs are.
Service dog fraud involves an individual misrepresenting what type of dog they own so the dog can be allowed in places where regular dogs are not allowed to be.
These places commonly include apartments or businesses. Service dog fraud is prohibited under California Penal Code 365.7 PC. A violation of this law can result in a criminal misdemeanor offense and a jail term of six months.
The legal definition of PC 365.7 service dog fraud says: “Anyone who knowingly and fraudulently represents themselves, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed, or identified, as a guide, signal, or service dog is guilty of a misdemeanor crime…”
Emotional support dogs have become more prevalent in recent years, and the California Legislature passed a law to stop people from misrepresenting their emotional support dogs as service dogs. Assembly Bill 468 prohibits this activity and imposes a fine of up to $500 for a violation. AB 468 is a relatively new law that went into effect in January 2022 that can result in fines on people if they fraudulently misrepresent their dog.
Further, California Health and Safety Code 122318 HS lays out specific requirements on health care providers before they can document that someone needs an emotional support dog. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we will examine this topic in more detail below.
Who Qualifies for a Service Dog?
Service dogs are meant to help individuals who suffer from disabilities. Disabilities are defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disabilities under the act are listed as mental or physical limitations that an individual has.
These can include intellectual disabilities, mental illness, or an inability to get around or function properly physically. Disabilities are medically diagnosed, and an individual cannot simply say they have a disability to qualify for a service dog; they must have proof from a doctor.
According to the ADA, someone with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental disability that significantly limits some of their primary life activities, has a history of an impairment, or is perceived by others as having an impairment.
Some mental disabilities that could make them eligible for a service dog include an intellectual disability, emotional mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and specific learning disabilities.
An “emotional support dog” is a dog that provides its owner with a sense of wellbeing, fulfillment, companionship, or lessened anxiety.
What Are the Common Types of Service Dog Fraud?
Service dog fraud occurs in several ways. Some common examples of service dog fraud include:
- Lying to an apartment complex about the type of dog, so the dog is allowed at the complex;
- Lying to a department store about the type of dog so the dog can join the owner while shopping;
- Transferring dog ownership without giving truthful information regarding what type of dog it is.
Some may even lie to an airline to allow a pet onboard as a medical dog when the dog is a regular pet. While these types of service dog fraud may seem generally harmless, they can subject an offender to criminal liability and penalty.
Likewise, as noted, California Health and Safety Code 122318 HS imposes requirements on health care providers before a recommendation that someone needs an emotional support dog. For instance, under law, the health care providers must:
- Has to possess a valid health care practitioner license,
- Complete an evaluation for the need for an emotional support dog,
- Give the patient a verbal and written notice that fraudulently representing themselves to be the owner or trainer of a service dog is a crime,
- Have at least a prior 30-day relationship with the patient.
What Are the Penalties?
If you are convicted of violating PC 365.7 service dog fraud laws, it's a misdemeanor offense punishable by:
- Up to six months in county jail,
- A maximum fine of up to $1,000.
Any person or business violating Assembly Bill 468 notice requirement can receive a civil penalty:
- $500 fine for the first offense,
- $1,000 fine for a second offense,
- $2,500 fine for a third offense,
Any health care professional who violates HS 122318 is often subjected to discipline from their California licensing board.
What Are Some Related Crimes?
There are a few related crimes to service dog fraud, including:
- Pet insurance fraud – Penal Code 550 PC: If an individual makes a false claim on their pet insurance, they can be convicted of pet insurance fraud under California law.
- Misuse of handicap placards – Vehicle Code 4461 VC: if an individual uses a handicap placard or license plate without having a handicap or disability, then the individual can be convicted of misusing the placard or plate under California law.
This is not a complete list of potentially related crimes, as fraud can take many forms involving many actions.
What Are the Legal Defenses Available?
A few legal defenses may be available for an accusation of service dog fraud. Common defenses are discussed below if someone is accused of service dog fraud.
False accusation – this is the most common type of defense as it simply states that the owner is being falsely accused of committing the crime. These false accusations can come from others who are motivated to lie or from people who don't like the alleged offender.
No fraud committed – fraud requires an individual to knowingly commit a dishonest act to take advantage of someone else. If the mistake made was honest and not intended to defraud, this can be a legal defense.
Constitutional violations – common Constitutional violations involve acts of law enforcement where they either unlawfully search someone or seize evidence without appropriate legal authority.
Such acts are considered violations of the Fourth Amendment. If law enforcement coerced a confession and did not allow an individual to speak to an attorney, then a violation of the Fifth or Sixth Amendment may occur.
These legal defenses can serve as a complete defense to any alleged acts and can result in a dismissal of criminal charges in the right situation. Other potential defenses include negotiation with the prosecutor for reduced charges or getting the charges dropped.
Further, through prefiling negotiations, we might be able to persuade the prosecuting attorney from filing formal criminal charges in the first place, which is called a “DA reject.”
Eisner Gorin is located in Los Angeles, and you can reach our law firm for an initial case review by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.