On Monday, December 23, 2013, the Third District Court of Appeals in Ohio reversed a lower court ruling, and, in effect tossed Lima, Ohio’s breed-specific dangerous dog law by declaring it unconstitutional.
The appeals court ruling stemmed from a November 19, 2012, incident in which Lima, Ohio resident Theodore T. Stepleton was charged with a minor misdemeanor for having an “unconfined vicious dog” on his premises. Stepleton pled not guilty at his Nov. 30, 2012, arraignment in Lima Municipal Court, but was later found guilty of the charge. Stepleton later appealed the lower court’s decision, but not without much confusion in the interim as a result of the municipal court not scheduling a hearing for Stepleton to rebut the vicious dog claim.
The Third District Court of Appeals then ruled Lima’s ordinance was unconstitutional because it conflicted with state law. As Lima, Ohio.com reported,
The appeals court determined the Lima code’s definition that an owner could be found guilty of failing to confine a vicious dog in a secured pen if the owner of a pit bull dog whose dog has never previously injured a person or killed another dog or was restrained on three previous occasions in violation of ORC [Ohio Revised Code].
In contrast, the court said the Ohio law only defines dogs that without provocation have caused injury to a person, killed another dog or have been restrained in violation of ORC on three previous occasions as being ‘dangerous’ dogs.
It’s difficult to discern how Lima’s dangerous dog law conflicts with the Ohio state law, and the articles about the decision don’t make it much clearer, but it looks like Lima’s law and the state law differ in that Lima’s law is breed-specific whereas the state of Ohio no longer declares dogs vicious based solely on breed (and again, “pit bull” is not a breed).
We’re left to assume, though perhaps incorrectly, that Mr. Stepleton owns a dog that Lima has arbitrarily designated a “pit bull,” though Mr. Stepleton may not even have been aware that his dog was considered a “pit bull” by Lima. Therein may lie the problem since the definition of what a so-called “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix is varies widely and frequently.
Mr. Stepleton’s due process rights were violated again when the municipal court did not schedule a hearing for Stepleton to rebut the vicious dog claim. In other words, Mr. Stepleton wasn’t even allowed his due process rights to argue against the vicious dog designation for his dog! Do you see why I so often rail against dangerous dog laws and administrative hearings? They tend to negate dog owners’ due process rights, among other things.
After cases like Stepleton’s, we the people are left to wonder if the courts are run by monkeys. Maybe just kangaroos. Ohio has certainly been no stranger to kangaroo courts with even allegations of evidence tampering at the Ohio Supreme Court in a case similar to Stepleton’s. It leaves reasonable people to wonder if a dog owner, particularly a “pit bull” owner (whatever they decide a “pit bull” is this week), can get a fair shake in the Ohio court system.