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Criminal law, and a dog named Guinness

Here’s something you don’t see all too often – a “dangerous dog” case.

That’s a proceeding under Virginia Code § 3.2-6540, in which the commonwealth seeks to have a dog declared dangerous if it attacked or bit someone. If adjudicated, the dog has to wear a special tag and if it attacks or bites someone again, the owner can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In other words, it’s a serious deal.

Last month, Fairfax Circuit Judge Jan L. Brodie had the case of Commonwealth v. Shafer on her desk, hearing some preliminary motions.

The facts, alleged by the commonwealth: A black boxer named Guinness knocked down and attacked a guy named Mohammad Shah late last year. Shah broke three ribs and suffered bites on his face and hand.  Two animal control officers seized Guinness and carted him away.

Here’s something else you don’t see too often – criminal law concepts applied to a canine. The dog’s owner, Scott Shafer, is defending the dangerous dog proceeding and invoked the exclusionary rule in the case.

The judge spent about four pages analyzing the issue. Bottom line: A dangerous dog proceeding is civil, not criminal. No exclusionary rule.

As an aside, the judge cited one of those cases where some inanimate object sues a state – think back to in rem cases in law school, and you get the picture.

Here, the case came from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965 and is memorably titled, One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania.

The second criminal law concept tried in the case was suppression of an out-of-court identification.

Of the dog.

While Brodie was willing to explore the exclusionary rule, she dispensed with this one pretty quickly: “The Defendant has provided no authority that would have the identification procedure of a dog in a dangerous dog proceeding – who has not been criminally charged – be suppressed.

“Thus there is no justification for extending the constitutional protections afforded to humans to the canine at issue in this case,” she wrote.

Guinness will have his day in court at a later date.

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