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Is It Legal to Kill a Police Dog in Self Defense?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Self defense is a tricky legal concept, and it becomes even more nuanced when individuals assert self-defense claims against law enforcement officers or police dogs, especially if the officer or K-9 is killed. Generally, law enforcement officers and police dogs have similar rights when it comes to suspects and arrestees fighting back, but these rights vary from state to state. It should be noted that harming a police dog is almost sure to inflame, and provoke, officers, causing them to overreact and shoot to kill.

In nearly every state, there are specific laws that, for all intents and purposes, equate an attack on a police dog as the same as an attack on a regular officer. The penalties are incredible harsh. Recently, a man was sentenced to 45 years for killing a police dog. Generally, though, individuals do have the right to resist unlawful arrests, excessive force, and unprovoked attacks from officers and K-9s.

Resisting Unlawful Arrest, Excessive Force, and Unprovoked Attacks

In most states, you can only fight back against an officer, or police dog, if the arrest is unlawful or if excessive force was used by an officer or K-9. In the excessive force situation, you can only use a proportional amount of force reasonably necessary to fight back. Additionally, if the attack is not related to an arrest, or any police duty, but is an unprovoked attack, an individual has the right to defend themselves as they would from any other attacker.

When a police dog is attacking a person, depending on what the dog is doing, a person may be able to claim that the use of a police dog constitutes excessive force. Many police dogs are trained to "bite and hold" suspects, which as the name implies, involves a K-9 literally biting down on a suspect in order to prevent them from fleeing until human officers can arrive. Because dog bites can be extraordinarily severe, an individual may be justified in fighting back in that situation, if the bite is drawing blood, or severely injuring an individual.

In an unlawful arrest situation, in states like California, a person may not have the right to fight back. Some jurisdictions do permit individuals to fight back to resist an unlawful arrest, but deadly force cannot be used unless deadly force is threatened.

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