Now, I don't usually take criminal cases involving dogs. I love dogs. I've got dogs myself. But this case was different.
Client was charged with "Larceny of a Dog" in western Oklahoma. I'm originally from that area, so I always like the opportunity to head back and do a little constitutional combat.
Regardless, when I received the call on the case in question, I had to do a double take. I've represented plenty of theft cases, both misdemeanor and felony, but I had never been approached regarding a dog-stealing case. Needless to say, the allegation caught my attention.
The dog larceny was charged as a felony. In Oklahoma, larceny is divided into tow categories: petite larceny and grand larceny. Petite larceny is a misdemeanor and grand larceny is a felony. All in all, the distinction really only comes down to value: if someone is accused of taking the personal property of another valued at less than $500, then it is petite larceny. However, if the personal property is valued at over $500, then it is grand larceny.
What many criminal attorneys (and defendants) don't realize though, is that a charge of larceny of dogs is governed by the same categorizations applicable to any other larceny charge. In effect, the taking of a dog, or any other domestic animal for that fact, is punishable in the same manner and to the same degree as larceny of other descriptions of personal property. Consequently, the theft of a dog or domestic animal can only be charged as a felony if the prosecution is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the animal in question was valued at over $500.
The kicker though, is that you have to go by the market value of the animal, or the "cost" of the animal. This can become tricky, as the value argument the prosecution has to make often fails to focus on the complexity of the problem as a whole, becasue it is a cost argument, and not necessarily a "value" one.
That is why in criminal law the prosecution is not able to account for, or add-in, the pain and suffering an individual would likely suffer if their beloved pet was stolen from them. Believe you me, I would be madder than hell if someone stole one of my dogs, and I would be very sad no doubt, but those emotions are not something that you can "monetize" for a criminal proceeding. Those emotions are something more easily addressed in a civil suit, where a plaintiff could ask for compensatory damages for pain and suffering.
Regardless of the cost/value question and whether or not the alleged theft should be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, there is also an "intent" aspect that has to be taken into account. There has to be an intent to steal or permanently deprive the owner of the property. That element was not applicable in the case in question, as my client was not even the individual who allegedly took the dog in the first place. It is not a crime to associate with the wrong people, unless and until those people commit an act that someone tries to attribute to you personally.
Through thorough investigation, we were able to develop a defense and present it in a fashion that ultimately resulted in a dismissal for our client. This case presented a lot of issues that I had never anticipated tackling, but in the end, I'm glad I was able to put aside my pet-loving bias and focus on the actual allegations and the available evidence before jumping to any conclusions about the character of the defendant or the charges in general.
Oh, and did you know that it is a misdemeanor to leave a domestic animal on the road in Oklahoma? Yeah, me neither. But it is, and people really do get charged with it. Got that dismissed as well.