A $1,000 (Or Less) Fine After His Pit Bulls Kill a Man?

Even though the criminal charge is second degree manslaughter, the pit bull owner in the Alan Bruce case might just get a fine of “up to” $1,000.

I am representing the family of Alan Bruce who was mauled to death by pit bulls in September 2918. It happened in Oklahoma, a state that does not have a specific criminal law pertaining to owning a vicious dog that kills a person (meaning a dog known to its owner to want to kill, as opposed to previously adjudicated to be vicious). The vacuum is filled by charging Michael Don Wright with second degree manslaughter, but the penalty ranges from a fine of $1.00 (theoretically) to 4 years in prison.

Based on modern dog bite law throughout the USA, Oklahoma’s criminal code needs an additional, specific section to deal justly with situations like this case. Defendant Wright’s pit bulls were known to him and the entire community to be vicious because they had bitten other people prior to this fatal mauling, but the police in the small town where Wright lived took no action to label the animals as vicious. Without that label, the case fell into a loophole in the state’s penal code.

The loophole needs to be closed by enacting a law similar to that which is found in the criminal codes of a number of states, making it a felony if a dog kills a person after its owner became aware that the dog was vicious, whether or not the authorities previously adjudicated the dog to be vicious. Every state should have such a law because it is difficult to get a conviction without a law tailored to this unusual situation. 

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