(a) A person commits an offense if the person is the owner of a dog and the person:
(1) with criminal negligence, as defined by Section 6.03, Penal Code, fails to secure the dog and the dog makes an unprovoked attack on another person that occurs at a location other than the owner’s real property or in or on the owner’s motor vehicle or boat and that causes serious bodily injury, as defined by Section 1.07, Penal Code, or death to the other person;
After being convicted for failing to secure their pit bulls which resulted in the death of a seven year-old neighbor boy, appellants challenged the statute as being unconstitutionally vague. They argued that the terms “unprovoked” and “attack” are undefined in the statute, rendering it vague and open to disparate jury interpretation. In a unanimous opinion drafted by Judge Myers, the CCA upheld the convictions, explaining that the terms “unprovoked” and “attack” are not part of the mens rea of the crime in that they relate to the actions of the dog, not the omissions or failings of the dog owners. Further, the CCA reasoned that:
Terms not defined in a statute are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning, and words defined in dictionaries and with meanings so well known as to be understood by a person of ordinary intelligence are not to be considered vague and indefinite.
The prohibited conduct in this case (and in every Attack By Dog case) was the dog owners’ failure to secure the dogs. The CCA noted that in determining whether a dog owner has taken reasonable efforts to secure a dog, the court uses the reasonable person standard.
TAKEAWAY: Lock up your dogs. If they get out and kill someone, you will be charged with a crime. Fancy legal arguments are not likely to save you when your pit bulls kill a seven year-old boy.