Dangerous dog sentencing guidelines

The new dangerous dog sentencing guidelines are now in force.

If you have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a relevant dangerous dog offence and your sentence will take place on or after the 20th August 2012 these new guidelines will be applied to your case regardless of the date of the offence.

Magistrates and Judges must follow and will apply these guidelines to your case unless it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.

What is a relevant dangerous dog offence?

The dangerous dog guidelines apply to the following offences:

  1. Owner or person in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place, injuring a person. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(1))
  2. Owner or person in charge allowing a dog to be in a private place where the dog is not permitted to be, injuring any person.Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(3)(a))
  3. Owner or person in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(1))
  4. Owner or person in charge allowing a dog to be in a private place where the dog is not permitted to be, which makes a person fear injury. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(3)(b))
  5. Possession of a prohibited dog. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 1(3))
  6. Breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 1(2))

How the guidelines work

The Magistrates or Judge must follow a step by step process to determine the appropriate sentence in your case:

STEP ONE - Determining the offence category:

For the purpose of sentence, each offence is split into three categories of seriousness within the offence. Category 1 being the most serious and Category 3 being the least serious. The Magistrates or Judge must first determine in which category your offence falls and decide the level of offence. The category of offence is determined by establishing the level of harm caused to the victim and your culpability (i.e fault or responsibility) for the offence. Each offence has specific factors that indicate greater or lesser harm and greater or lesser culpability and you should read the guideline relating to your specific offence to find which if any apply to your case.

STEP TWO – Starting point and category range:

Each offence has a set starting point depending upon the category of seriousness. The starting point is the guideline sentence that unless it is contrary to the interests of justice to do so, the Magistrates or Judge will apply to your case; for example, 6 months custody. The guidelines also specify a range of sentence. This means, depending upon the seriousness of your specific case within the category, the  court can apply a starting point within the set range; for example, medium level community order – 18 months custody.

The guidelines specify a number of different factors which may either increase or decrease the appropriate starting point for example; previous convictions or ongoing effect on the victim which will increase seriousness or lack of previous convictions and evidence of remorse which could decrease the seriousness of the offence for the purpose of sentence. If there are a number of factors present in a case which either increase or decrease the seriousness of it, it may mean that a

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higher or lesser sentence will be imposed than the otherwise stated starting point.

In cases where the guideline sentence is a custodial sentence (i.e. prison), the court must ask itself whether a custodial sentence is unavoidable and if so, can that custodial sentence be suspended?

STEP THREE – Consider any factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution.

This means that if you have helped the police or prosecution for example; in terms of the investigation, that you may be entitled to a reduction in sentence.

STEP FOUR –  Reduction for guilty plea.

If you plead guilty to the offence then you will be entitled to a reduction in sentence for your guilty plea. The maximum reduction for a guilty plea is one-third of the sentence that would otherwise have been imposed. The maximum reduction is only available if you plead guilty at the first opportunity. If you enter your plea at a later date or on the day of trial your discount in sentence will be reduced depending upon the timeliness of your plea. If you plead guilty on the day of trial you will only be entitled to a maximum of a ten percent discount in sentence. If you are guilty of the offence and you have been advised that the evidence against you is strong it is therefore in your best interests for you to enter your plea at the earliest opportunity. It could make the difference between going to prison or not.

STEP FIVE – compensation and ancillary orders

The court must then consider whether it is appropriate to award compensation to the victim/s and/or make any additional orders for example; the court could disqualify you from having custody of a dog. If the dog is considered a danger to the public the court will order that it is destroyed.

STEP SIX –  Totality principle

If you have been convicted of more than one offence the court must take into account the totality of sentence imposed for all offences and consider whether it is proportionate to your overall offending behaviour.

STEP SEVEN – Reasons

The court must tell you why they have given you the sentence imposed and explain the effect of it to you.

STEP EIGHT – Consideration for remand time

If you were remanded in custody for this offence by the court, the court must consider whether the time you have served in prison on remand should count towards your sentence. Ordinarily it will.

What is the starting point for sentence for each offence?

Owner or person in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place, injuring a person. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(1)) 

Maximum sentence: 2 years custody

Category 1 – 6 months custody (sentence range: medium level community order – 18 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band B fine – 6 months custody)

Category 3 – Band B fine (sentence range: discharge – band C fine)

Owner or person in charge allowing a dog to be in a private place where the dog is not permitted to be, injuring any person.Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(3)(a))

Maximum sentence: 2 years custody

Category 1 – 6 months custody (sentence range: medium level community order – 18 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band B fine – 6 months custody)

Category 3 – Band B fine (sentence range: discharge – band C fine)

Owner or person in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(1))

Maximum sentence: 6 months custody

Category 1 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band C fine – 6 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Band B fine (sentence range: band A fine – low level community order)

Category 3 – Band A fine (sentence range: discharge – band B fine)

Owner or person in charge allowing a dog to be in a private place where the dog is not permitted to be, which makes a person fear injury. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3(3)(b))

Maximum sentence: 6 months custody

Category 1 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band C fine – 6 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Band B fine (sentence range: band A fine – low level community order)

Category 3 – Band A fine (sentence range: discharge – band B fine)

Possession of a prohibited dog. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 1(3))

Maximum sentence: 6 months custody

Category 1 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band C fine – 6 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Band C fine (sentence range: band A fine – medium level community order)

Category 3 – Band A fine (sentence range: discharge – band B fine)

Breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 1(2))

Maximum sentence: 6 months custody

Category 1 – Medium level community order (sentence range: band C fine – 6 months’ custody)

Category 2 – Band C fine (sentence range: band A fine – medium level community order)

Category 3 – Band A fine (sentence range: discharge – band B fine)

 

If you have been charged or summonsed to attend court for one or more of these offences you should always seek legal advice.

 

If you would like to view the guidelines in full, please click here 

 

 

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