California case on self defense against dogs
Via Don Kates and Paxton Quigley--
On August 16, the California Court of Appeals handed down People v. Lee, No. B175291.
Facts: Defendant, a retired deputy, was walking her dog when two other dogs approached and refused to pull back when she shouted at them to go away. She testified that she had been attacked by dogs three times in the past in the area and was afraid they were attacking. She fired a shot at them which hit a parked car. [This case is NOT a lesson in good gun handling -- and it certainly sounds like LA County Sheriff's Dept could use a lot more training in safe use of firearms]. Witnesses to the incident (most of whom were at a distance of 50-60 yds, and disagreed quite significantly on how close the dogs were to her) said they didn't think the dogs were preparing to attack. She was tried and convicted on charges of discharging a firearm with gross negligence.
The trial court refused to give a jury instruction on self defense. The prosecution argued that the California law on self-defense only pertained to defense against humans, and that when animals attacked the only defense was necessity (which is considerably narrower than self-defense, and puts the burden of proof on the defense). Apparently the uniform California jury instructions on self-defense refer to defense against a "person."
The Ct of Appeals reverses and concludes
The focus is on the nature of the threat, rather than its source. It serves no public policy, and is neither logical nor fair, to deprive appellant of the defense of self-defense because the threat of imminent harm came from a dog and not from a person. The use of force in defense of oneself should be legitimate, whether or not the source of the threat is a human being. In other words, the use of force in self-defense should not be illegitimate because the source of the threat is not a human being.
The opinion also has an interesting survey of cases on self-defense against animals.