Virginia crime commission endorses tougher dog law legislation

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Friday, October 14, 2005

The Commonwealth of Virginia pressed ahead with new dog law proposals designed to stiffen penalties against owners whose animals attack and injure people. On Wednesday, the State Crime Commission unanimously endorsed a dog law measure that would increase the criminal penalty from a class one misdemeanor to a felony offense of unlawful bodily injury, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

The commission also proposed that police, in addition to animal control officers, be given authority to classify a dog as "dangerous". With a dog carrying that classification, tougher censorship against owners who let their dogs roam would be possible, and a felony charge against its owner would be more warranted in the event the dog should cause injury.

Edward Houck, a senator in the Virginia General Assembly, said he plans to bring the proposals for a vote during next year’s legislative session. Houck is a Spotsylvania County representative where a dog owner, Deanna Large, pleaded "not guilty" to the felony charge of involuntary manslaughter in the mauling death of an elderly woman attacked by her 3 pit bulls.

The crime commission did not propose legislation in the instance of injury leading to death; the issue of that criminality will be left to the court. The crime commission chairman, Ken Stolle, said he would wait to see the outcome of the circuit court trial.

At present, there is no law in Virginia to specify a particular offense by an owner whose dog(s) injure or kill a person. Lawmakers want to see if the judge, William Ledbetter Jr., finds that an involuntary manslaughter charge in the case of Large is appropriate. The trial is set to go forward on December 20 where she faces 10 years.

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