As James Austin of Brooklyn stood outside of his home with his pit-bull puppy, he could not have predicted that a drug suspect would dash into his building, followed by two undercover policemen. According to official reports, Austin ordered his dog to attack — after which the agents shot at both Austin and his puppy.
Not only was Austin, 23, wounded in the leg, but his dog Dutchess was killed. Police arrested Austin for menacing, assault, attempted assault and one charge that is raising eyebrows — criminal possession of a weapon. The weapon in question is Dutchess.
In New York, as in other states, the law allows a dog to be classified as a weapon if the animal is used to harm someone. Although weapons convictions for dogs are rare, courts across the country have tended to agree that if someone uses an animal like a weapon, they may face the same charges as someone who uses a more traditional device like a knife or even a gun.
Kenneth M. Phillips, a California canine law attorney, told The New York Times, “In the past, one had to really strive hard to convict somebody of a felony when a dog was the instrument that caused the damage. Now, prosecutors are using these laws that usually apply to guns and other weapons to enhance charges. That is going on all over the country right now. Far more than it was even two years ago.”
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A similar case occurred in New York in 2007 when a man’s dog attacked a police officer, garnering the defendant a conviction for second-degree assault with a deadly weapon.
He appealed the decision, but the appellate court ruled, “ We hold that the dog, as used, fits the statutory definition of a deadly weapon and that the officer's testimony was not error.”