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Friday, June 6, 2008

Dogs to get their day -- in court, that is

As an animal lover and a lawyer, I feel compelled to pass along this interesting little legal tidbit from Norway.

The nation’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday that police dogs are public servants -- which means an assault on a police dog is just as serious as an attack on any police officer.

The precedent-setting case centered on Casper, who was attacked while on duty. (Some news reports say the dog was a Belgian Shepherd, like the one pictured here.)

A 29-year-old man was caught breaking into an apartment in the city of Bergen. He fled when police tried to arrest him, but Casper caught up and collared the suspect. Despite being continuously kicked and punched, the dog managed to hang on until the human officers were able to handcuff the suspect.

The man was charged not only for the break-in, but also with assaulting a police officer -- in this case, Casper.

Two lower courts dismissed the assault charge, saying the offense only applied to human officers. But the high court sent the case back down, with instructions on how to interpret the law properly.

“The Supreme Court finds that the concept of assault must also be used to cover assault on a police dog that is being used to help the police,” the court ruled. “An attack on a police dog must be judged on the same basis as an attack on a public servant.”

I, for one, am thrilled with the decision, and hope other countries will follow suit. Maybe a criminal suspect will think twice before harming a dog who is only doing what he was trained to do. Hummm … I wonder if Casper can bring a civil assault claim against his attacker as well?

1 comment:

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I also like this ruling. It makes sense on at least two levels.

First, it makes intuitive sense that a society that asks for a dog's protection would feel a corresponding obligation to take reasonable steps to protect this intelligent animal whom it has placed in harm’s way. Making it known that harming a police dog is a punishable offense would seem to be one such step.

Second, in practice as well as in theory, a police dog helping an officer subdue a violent suspect truly is acting as the officer’s full partner. This is not to deny that there are some differences between the cop and his dog; among them, a police dog does not demand wages but only fair treatment, a pat on the head, and an occasional treat.