Torrance, Felony Animal Cruelty, Plea to Misdemeanor

Our client was arrested and charged with a felony violation of California Penal Code § 597(b), (Cruelty to Animals). Our client left his pit bull in the back of his Ford Explorer while he went into his Lomita apartment.  At the time, it was more than 85 degrees outside.  Although our client left all four windows slightly open to allow fresh air for his dog and left a bowl of water for his dog in the car before leaving to his apartment, the dog was allegedly close to death when “rescued.” 

Our client’s neighbor called the Torrance Police Department when he saw the dog in the car.  When officers arrived, they broke open the door and took the dog out.  The dog had been in the car for approximately 45 minutes in the September heat.

Officers made no attempt to locate our client, who was in his apartment just about 30 or 40 feet away.  The neighbor, who knew who the car belonged to and where our client lived, did not direct the police to knock on our client’s door so he could just use his key and open up the car.  The neighbor also did not knock on our client’s door first, before calling 911.  Had any of these things happened, the dog would have been just fine and our client’s car would not have been broken into.  Our client also may not have faced a felony charge or even been arrested.

Instead, hearing the commotion of the police outside, our client came out of his apartment and asked what was happening.  When the officers realized he was the owner of the car and the dog, they placed him under arrest. 

Officers did not even allow our client to go back in the house, even if they escorted him inside, to get his car keys.  Instead, they seemed to insist upon breaking open the car, which they did.

The police report that followed claimed the temperature inside the car was 150 degrees Fahrenheit, but no one there actually measured the temperature of the car inside.  The report also claimed that our client’s dog was near death, but he jumped out of the car and was walking around the parking lot once the car was opened.  The dog did not even drink all the water inside the car that our client left for him.

At the time, our client had one month left to finish his nursing education and a felony conviction of this sort would cause him to become ineligible to become licensed as a registered nurse. 

Greg Hill negotiated with the Torrance District Attorney to have the charges lowered to a misdemeanor, as our client loved his dog, volunteered at a local veterinarian and never had the intention of hurting the dog.   After all, negligence is a civil cause of action, not criminal in nature.  Our client was simply negligent in underestimating how quickly the car might heat up.

A felony conviction would also create punishment beyond the scope of the violation.  In the end, our client pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of Penal Code Section 597(b) and was ordered to pay the veterinarian bill for services that were rendered to the dog.  He was also placed on an 18 months summary probation.

For more information about the issues in this case summary, click on the following articles:
  1. What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?
  2. Criminal Liability For Animal Cruelty Was Vague Until Now.
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