Preparing for court

What to expect & how to best prepare for court.

The hearing will take place in a magisterial district court.  This is because the offence would be a summary offence.  A summary offense is the most minor type of criminal offense in Pennsylvania, and is often called a “non-traffic citation." Whoever is the legal owner of the dog would have the charges brought against them.  This fact may cause you distress or guilt.  Or maybe others may try to make you feel guilty for pressing charges.  Dog attacks frequently occur in homes where you have a relationship with the dog owners.  As dogs in general are considered beloved family members, there may be a disconnect of what happened with what the dog owners believe to have happened.   To be clear, for charges to be brought, there has to have been a severe injury unprovoked, an attack or death of a cat or a dog, or an attack on a human.  These are clear reasons for a dog to be charged with being deemed dangerous.  It is not about punishing the owner, but about preventing dangerous dogs from harming again.  

Once you feel empowered to move forward, it may be best to request either the police officer or the dog warden file charges in the district where the incident took place.  They would then be the ones prosecuting the case.  You and the dog owner will each receive a summons with the day and time of the hearing.  You or others may even get subpoenaed, if you or they are witnesses.  Most people willingly go.  This is more a formality to make certain that if you have evidence about the attack, you testify.  

There will be evidence to gather.  Are there other people who have been attacked or bitten by the dog?  If you know anyone who has, ask them if they would be willing to testify as a witness to the dog's vicious propensity or history of attacking.  This will help your case tremendously as there are subsections of the dangerous dog law stipulating the above requirements.  It does however, say a single incident may prove vicious propensity.  The fact that it is worded  'may' means there is also a strong possibility that a single incident may not be enough to prove vicious propensity.   Past victims testifying will eliminate that ambiguity.  

  • Any physical evidence you have, such as pictures of the wounds, torn or ripped clothing, and the medical reports from the hospital. As medical records are not considered hearsay, the doctor who attended to the wounds from the attack will not need to be present in court for the records to be admissible.

  • The testimony from the authorities and the information they gathered from their investigation.

  • The testimony of the victim, whether it is yourself or a loved one.

  • Any witnesses who were at the attack or any past victims who are willing to testify. 

Here is a list of what you may need for the hearing.

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