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Owning Attack Dogs
PC 399.5 Law, Sentence, & Defense

The laws on the crime of owning attack dogs is found at California Penal Code section 399.5(a).

PC 399.5(a) Law

Per PC 399.5(a), any person owning or having custody or control of a dog trained to fight, attack, or kill is guilty of owing attack dogs (Abbrev.).

A person owning a dog must excise ordinary care to assure that the dog does not bite another human being. If the defendant knows that on at least two separate occasions his or her dog has bitten another person, or on one occasion, bites another person and causes substantial physical injury to another person, the owner is guilty of owning an attack dog (PC 399.5(a)).

PC 399.5(a) does not apply to trespassers, or people who provoked the dog, or contributed to his or her own injuries, or to dogs acting in military or law enforcement capacity.

Provocation includes, but is not limited to, situations where a dog held on a leash by its owner or custodian reacts in a protective manner to a person or person who approach the owner or custodian in a threatening manner.


PC 399.5(d) does not apply to veterinarian or an on-duty animal control officers while in the performance of his or her duties.


The crime of owning an attack dog is classified as a wobbler, which means it may be filed either as a felony or as a misdemeanor. Whether or not the district attorney files felony or misdemeanor PC 399.5(a) charges depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history, if any.

Jail: When owning an attack dog is charged as a felony under PC 399.5(a), the defendant, if convicted, may face up to a maximum of four (4) years in jail; when the crime of owning an attack dog is charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant may face up to a maximum of one (1) year in the county jail.

Note: PC 399.5(a) is subject to the provisions of PC 1170(h), which means that any jail or prison sentence may be suspended or split (half jail time, half work release). Probation, with or without a jail sentence, is also available for some defendants in PC 399.5(a) cases.

Three Strikes Law: The crime of owning an attack dog is not considered a "strike" under California Three Strikes Law. If found guilty of PC 399.5(a), the defendant is entitled to fifty percent (50%) good time credit, which means that if the defendant is committed to jail, he or she will only have to serve half of the jail commitment if he or she is on good behavior while in jail.


In addition to any jail or prison commitment, if found guilty of owning an attack dog charged under PC 399.5(a), the defendant could suffer some or all of the following penalties: Monetary fines up to $10,000 (PC 399.5(a)), restitution, civil lawsuits from victims of dog bites, adverse immigration consequences (for non-U.S. citizens), loss of professional or occupational license, civil forfeitures (government seizing property that was used to support attack dogs or animals), harsh probation terms, and more.

Defense to PC 399.5(a)

There are many defenses that might apply to criminal charges in general. With PC 399.5(a) charges the most common defenses include: insufficient evidence,  provocation of leashed dog by victim, trespass to land by victim where dog attacked, defendant's lack of knowledge of the dog's vicious tendencies to, attack victim, self-defense, defense of others, mistake of fact, statute of, limitations, coerced confessions, police misconduct and more. 

If you are charged with owning an attack dog, or PC 399.5, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys are available everyday to answer your questions. Call today!


Related Crimes

  • PC 399(a) Allow Vicious Animal At large Causing Death

  • PC 399(b) Allow Vicious Animal At Large Causing Injury

  • PC 597.5(a) Train Attack Dog / Attend a Dog Fight

  • PC 597.5(b) Knowingly Attend a Dog Fight

Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Own Attack Dog that Bites

Code: PC 399.5(a) (CalCrim No. 2950 &  2951)

Wobbler: Yes. PC 399.5(a) is a wobbler crime. PC 399.5(a) is charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.


Incarceration:Felony PC 399.5(a) jail sentence range: 2, 3, or 4 years. Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 1 year.

Probation: Probation is allowed in felony and misdemeanor PC 399.5(a) cases (assuming that other crimes or enhancements that might bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

PC 1170(h)): Yes. PC 399.5(a) is subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any jail or prison sentence may be:

  • Split (half in-custody / half out-of-custody)

  • Suspended (possibly never served)

  • Served in county jail (not state prison)

  • Note: Limitations may apply

Strike: PC 399.5(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.​


Firearms: Felony PC 399.5(a) convictions prohibit defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.​

Bail: $50,000 (Felony); $5,000 (Misdemeanor) (San Bernardino)

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