Wednesday, January 23, 2002
C.A. Rules Animal Cruelty Is Violent Crime Under MDO Statute
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant convicted of animal cruelty may be committed to a state hospital as a mentally disordered offender, a divided panel of this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Six affirmed San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Christopher Money’s order committing David Dyer to the Department of Mental Health under Penal Code Sec. 2962.
The statute permits commitment of prisoners or parolees past the expiration date of their terms, if they have been convicted of certain crimes—including any crime “in which the prisoner used force or violence, or caused serious bodily injury”—and are determined to be mentally ill and dangerous.
Dyer was arrested in 1997 after Oroville firefighters had to forcibly remove him from his burning trailer.
Inside the trailer, they found a dog with blood dripping from a 10-inch laceration of the neck. They also found other evidence leading them to conclude that Dyer intended to barbecue and eat the dog.
Dyer admitted knifing the dog, claiming it had attempted to bite him. He later admitted he was going to eat the dog, saying he was hungry.
After being charged with felony animal cruelty, he was examined and found to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. In June 1998, he pled no contest, was found to be incompetent, and was sent to Napa State Hospital for treatment.
He was eventually sentenced to two years in prison, credited with time served, and released on parole. His parole was revoked a short time later, after he violently attacked his father and challenged police to a fight.
State psychiatrists and the Board of Prison Terms determined that he was a mentally disordered offender and he was sent to Atascadero State Hospital. He petitioned the Superior Court for a hearing under the statute and waived his right to a jury trial.
Three mental health experts who examined him prior to the hearing concluded that Dyer suffered from a severe mental disorder, that the disorder contributed to the crime for which he was sentenced to prison, that he was not in remission, and that he had received the requisite 90 days of treatment before his parole date.
Two of the three agreed that he was dangerous to others.
Money ruled that all of the requirements for MDO commitment were met. Animal cruelty, he reasoned, qualified as a violent crime because there was nothing in the statute limiting its application to crimes against human beings.
Justice Paul Coffee, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
“The purpose underlying the MDO law is to protect the public by identifying those offenders who exhibit violence in their behavior and pose a danger to society,” the justice wrote. “It does not take a leap in logic to conclude that an individual who violently or forcefully injures an animal might be dangerous to people.”
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert concurred, but Justice Stephen Perren dissented.
While Dyer’s conduct toward the dog was “vile and despicable,” Perren argued, it was not a crime of violence in the sense intended by the Legislature.
All of the crimes that are specifically listed in the statute are crimes against persons, Perren noted. If lawmakers had intended to include crimes against animals in the “catch-all” provision, the dissenting jurist reasoned, they would have done so specifically.
The case is People v. Dyer. B147909.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company