Category Archives: Animal Abuse

State v. Werner: Who Let The Dogs Out?

Good case.

A defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in the prosecution for first degree assault after accidentally discharging a firearm when confronted by a neighbor’s pack of dangerous dogs.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=843881MAJ

“Victim” Daniel Barnes moved to the property next door to to defendant Gary Werner. Almost immediately, Werner and Barnes  began an ongoing property dispute concerning a shared easement.  Barnes kept seven dogs on Barnes’s property, including a Rottweiler and pit bulls. At least  three times before the incident giving rise to criminal charges, the dogs came onto Werner’s property and acted menacingly, barking and circling Werner. Werner started carrying a handgun with him on the property because he was afraid of the dogs.

The property dispute  intensified.  On the day of the incident, Werner was on his property in the easement area when one of Barnes’s pit bulls approached him, baring its teeth. Werner noticed six other dogs with the pit bull, including the Rottweiler and other pit bulls.  The dogs started circling Werner.  He pulled out his pistol, thinking he could scare the dogs, and started yelling for Barnes to call off the dogs.  Werner panicked and called 911 on his cell phone, but due to his arthritis, the gun went off, discharging into the ground.  The police were contacted.

The State charged Werner with Assault First Degree and Malicious Harassment. The jury acquitted him of the Malicious Harassment charge but found him guilty of Assault First Degree.  He appealed.  The case ended up before the WA Supremes.

The Court reviewed the law on self-defense.  “To prove self-defense, there must be evidence that (1) the
defendant subjectively feared that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm; (2) this belief was objectively reasonable; [and] (3) the defendant exercised no greater force than was reasonably necessary.” Callahan, 87 Wn. App. at 929 (citation omitted).

The Court reasoned that here, Werner stated that he was afraid. That fear was arguably reasonable, given that he was facing seven snarling dogs, including several pit bulls and a Rottweiler.  Pursuant to State v. Hoeldt, 139 Wn. App. 225, 160 P.3d 55 (2007), a pit bull can be a deadly weapon under RCW 9A.04.110(6). There is evidence that Barnes’s friend refused requests to call off the dogs. By that conduct, Werner could reasonably have believed that Barnes’s friend personally posed a threat through the agency of a formidable group of canines that were under his control.

As to the firing of the weapon, the WA Supremes beleived Werner’s accounting that it was an accident.  They found sufficient evidence of both accident and self-defense to warrant instructing the jury on self-defense.  “Since the outcome turns on which version of events the jury believed, the failure to give a self-defense instruction prejudiced Werner.” Accordingly, the WA Supremes reversed Werner’s conviction.

My opinion?  Good decision.  A pack of wild dogs surrounding and growling at you definitley warrants self-defense.  That’s a no-brainer!  The “victim” is lucky none of his dogs were killed.

Whatcom County Jail Gets Record Number of Inmates

Front page news, Bellingham Herald.

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2010/02/27/1313259/whatcom-county-jail-gets-record.html?storylink=omni_popular

Whatcom County Jail’s population hit a record high over Presidents Day weekend and since then, law enforcement agencies have been booking fewer people, to ease the crowding.

The jail’s population reached 323 inmates – its operational capacity should be 212 inmates -the weekend of Feb. 13-15, causing the jail to run out of temporary beds and come close to running out of clothes, sheets and other resources.

From Feb. 1 to Feb. 16, an average of 26 people were booked into the jail each day.

Bellingham police have been citing and releasing some people arrested on misdemeanor, and booking and then immediately releasing others.  An officer might take some people to jail to have their photos and fingerprints taken, then have the jail release them.

My opinion?  I’ll state the obvious: the criminal justice system in Whatcom County has reached peaked capacity.  Jails are overcrowded.  Trial calendars are filled.   Trust me, I know.

The easy solution?  Hire an additional judge, build additional courts, and build another jail.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen any time soon.   Put simply, The County lacks resources to build jails and/or hire more court staff.  This is not due to sloppy spending on the part of the County.  The Whatcom Superior Court has already eliminated numerous services due to the decrease in revenues.  That said, the likelihood of obtaining more revenue to hire another judge and/or construct another jail is slim to none.

The harder solution – and probably the more criticized; yet WORKABLE solution – is for the Prosecutor’s Office to negotiate more cases to a favorable resolution.  They’re a trial-happy bunch, and unnecesarily so.  Not every case must be brought to trial.  Justice happens when all parties leave the courtroom satisfied with the result.

At any rate, overcrowded jails are symptomatic of larger problems.  The County judiciary is burning the candlestick at both ends.  We’re seeing a decrease in judicial revenues and an increase in inmates.  The state of affairs certainly is alarming.  Why now, and why all of the sudden?

A tough nut to crack . . .