In 2016 I took on a case where the victim was a dog.
My client had shot his neighbors’ dog – a medium to a large-sized mixed-breed dog with a fluffy blonde coat. The law enforcement investigation showed the dog was not in an act of aggression on my client at the time he shot the dog. My client was arrested. He was charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals which comes from 42.092 of the Texas Penal Code.
My client insisted that he was justified in shooting his neighbor’s dog. So, I planned to take the case to trial. The possible penalties if he were convicted were up to a year in jail, and a $4000 fine.
The morning of the trial (which was over a year after the case had been charged) the prosecutor announced to the Court that he had decided to dismiss the misdemeanor case and seek an indictment for Felony Cruelty to Animals.
He apologized for undercharging the case.
So now the level of offense jumped to a state jail felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 24 months in state jail, and a $10,000 fine.
My client was not thrilled but had lots of confidence in me to win at trial. Everyone I spoke to in the legal community through was convinced that no jury would acquit on a dog-shooting case because people hate animal cruelty as bad or worse than sexual assault cases.
The case was tried by a jury in the 350th District Court of Taylor County, Texas in the fall of 2017. There is no public record of the arrest, charge, or jury trial because I won a “not-guilty” verdict from the jury – and the person who is found not guilty of an offense is entitled to an expunction of all records of the case.
A point of special pride for me was after the case the judge read a special note from the jurors which asked “Is there any way we can encourage the prosecution of [the complaining party in this case?]” That note told me my cross-examination of the victim, the dog owner, and subsequent rebuttal witnesses had destroyed his credibility with the jury leaving no choice but to accept my client’s version of events.
I won this case by providing context. Yes, my client shot the dog, but it wasn’t on a sidewalk in a neighborhood, it was 20 miles outside of town on rural farmland.
And this wasn’t just one dog running around. It was a dog that ran in a pack of dogs that the complaining party was feeding and allowing to run unencumbered on his land and neighboring tracts – the owner had created a real nuisance.
My client testified that there were dozens of dogs running wild.
On cross-examination, the dog owner admitted to having over 30 dogs at his place over the years, but his ex-wife testified afterward and said “it was more like 60” and that she left him because dogs and alcoholism had made him unbearable to live with.
Additionally, my client testified that just two days before the dog that was shot had been chasing his cattle.
Texas law is a little vague as to when you can shoot a dog that chases cattle, but it’s clear that you can do it. The judge researched and deliberated for two hours when deciding if he would allow a “chasing cattle defense” to be included in the jury charge.
Lastly, even though I had several good legal and fact points to make at trial, they would have fallen on deaf ears if I had not picked suitable jurors that were willing to apply the law fairly, treat my client as innocent until proven guilty, and consider that Texas law allows several justifications for shooting a dog. I needed men on that jury, and I was able to get 6 men including one doctor.
I remember this case fondly, but it’s easy to forget that the prosecutor worked hard to convict, and as all trials go it was a hard fight the entire way until “not guilty.”
About The Attorney
Matt’s passion for the law has led him to develop a broad-based practice that touches on almost every area of law that affects individuals in their everyday lives and small business representation. He also speaks Spanish.
Attorney Matt Zimmerman works tirelessly to achieve the greatest possible results for each of our clients and their families. This is a selection of one of his many successful results, settlements, and verdicts. Every case and client is unique and depends upon the individual facts and circumstances of each case. Clients may or may not obtain the same or similar results in each case.