Doggy Justice or Nanny State?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a new court in San Antonio, TX that has been established to deal with domestic animal problems. The court meets every week to deal exclusively with the revamped chapter five of the city’s Code of Ordinances, which addresses dog bites, stray pets, failure to register and vaccinate animals, and the specific weight, length, and material of leashes and collars. Code violations can lead to fines of up to $2,000 per day.

Some citizens argue that the city is frequently “prosecuting picayune offenses.” Ramal Shaw, for example, is a resident of San Antonio who faces charges that his Chihuahua bit his 6-year-old son. Shaw claims that the bite was actually a scratch, and his son complained about it to a school nurse in an attempt to “play hooky” from school. Shaw now faces a $269 fine and must appear in the new court to face a prosecutor. If Shaw does not pay the fine, the court has the power to seize the dog. For some individuals, this is the equivalent of losing a family member because of an inability to pay a fine.

Lisa Wayne, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues in the article that “[w]e have moved towards an over-criminalization model, where everything is punishable by jails or fines.” In her view, the city should focus on “educating people about their animals rather than punishing them.”

San Antonio’s new system has thus far accumulated a total of $250,000 in fines from the prosecution of similar cases.

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