State v. Crosswhite
Case # A154208
Full Text of Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/A154208.pdf
Defendant Crosswhite lived, on and off, with two friends. Ten pit bulls also lived at the house. Crosswhite had known the dogs since they were acquired, and he helped care for them. Police visited the home frequently, and every time they went, Crosswhite was there. Two Officers testified that Crosswhite had set up residence there, and other residents would have had to formally evict him if they wanted Crosswhite to leave. One day, neighbors heard a number of dogs making loud noises at the house and saw dogs fighting and people, including Crosswhite, cheering the dogs on. The neighbors yelled at them to break up the fight. Crosswhite grabbed a hammer from the house and used it to hit the dogs in order to separate them. Later examinations of the dogs showed wounds consistent with a long-term pattern of dog fighting and dog bites. Crosswhite was subsequently charged with one count of second-degree Animal Abuse, ORS 167.315, and four counts of second-degree Animal Neglect, ORS 167.325.
Crosswhite moved for a judgment of acquittal on all counts, arguing that the State had failed to present sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that Crosswhite had custody or control over the dogs pursuant to ORS 167.325(1). The trial court denied the motion, and Crosswhite was convicted on all counts. Crosswhite now appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion. He argues that the State could not make a showing that he had “custody or control” over the dogs because he did not own the dogs but rather cared for them on occasion.
The Court of Appeals explains that the statute does not define the phrase “custody or control.” Moreover, because the terms are stated disjunctively, the Court need only determine if a reasonable jury could have found that Crosswhite had either custody or control over the dogs. A person “controls” an animal when he or she exercises power over it, manages it, or restrains it. The term “control” does not include any reference to ownership or legal authority over an animal.
Additionally, the statute’s context reveals an overall legislative purpose to shield animals from a wide variety of harms, apart from the issue of ownership. In this case, the evidence showed that Crosswhite had control of the dogs because he effectively lived in the home and cared for and maintained the dogs, fed them, and took them for veterinary visits. He also was part of decision-making about whether the dogs should continue to live in the home, and exercised power over and restrained the dogs—particularly by breaking up dog fights, both previously with a water hose and, on the day at issue, with a hammer. For these reasons, a reasonable jury could find that Crosswhite had control over the dogs. The trial court did not err in denying his motion, and the judgment is affirmed.