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Dog Pack Mauling: Owner Charged With Murder

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By Betty Wang, JD on May 31, 2013 8:47 AM

The 29-year-old owner of four pit bulls that fatally mauled a 63-year-old jogger earlier this month has been charged with murder.

Alex Jackson, who had eight dogs (six of them pit bulls) in his home, was arrested and held on $1 million bail. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.

Unfortunately, dog bites and even fatal dog maulings happen often enough. However, while not uncommon, it is a bit more rare that an actual murder charge results from a dog mauling -- even a fatal one.

Strict Liability

One question raised by the dog pack "murder" charge: Can Jackson even liable for a killing that he didn't commit himself? Laws regarding injuries resulting from animal attacks vary by state, but California abides by the theory of strict liability.

Strict liability makes the owner of the pet or animal liable, regardless of his or her involvement in the injury or killing. This means that even if Jackson had no idea his pit bulls were capable of mauling other human beings, he would still be responsible.

Other states that do not impose strict liability for dog attacks prove fault by assessing whether or not the owner knew or should have known about the animal's dangerous propensities.

Degrees of Murder

Many states generally classify murder as either first degree or second degree. California is no exception to this, and the homicide laws in the state define first-degree murder as a killing with malice -- that is, one that has been thought out ahead of time, expressly or impliedly. Second-degree is any killing that is not first-degree.

Second-degree murder can also be found from a killing caused by dangerous conduct and an "obvious lack of concern for human life."

Depending on what the investigation reveals and how this case plays out in court, either degree of murder could potentially apply to Jackson. While there are no clear signs that he planned to sic his pit bulls on anyone in the public, there are other implied, passive ways to show premeditation or lack of concern for human life -- for example, if he knew about his dogs' propensities to kill.

Authorities have received at least three other reports of Jackson's pit bulls attacking others, a prosecutor told the Times. Jackson is set to appear in court for his arraignment today.

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