Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act, persons with service animals can bring their companion animals wherever they go, including restaurants, grocery stores and other places where animals are otherwise prohibited due to health code laws. But some people falsely claim their pet is a service animal in order to take the animal wherever they go or in order to keep a pet in a residence where pets are not allowed. Just like disability placard abuse, this is a form of fraud. If you have been charged with this crime, do not speak to the police without a San Diego service animal fraud lawyer present to protect your rights.
What is Service Dog Fraud?
In order for someone to be guilty of service dog fraud, that person needs to have knowingly and fraudulently represented his or her self as an owner or trainer of service, guide or signal animals. This means that if a blind person was told they were given a guide dog, but that dog was not actually trained to perform such functions, that person would not be guilty of service dog fraud because he or she legitimately believed that the dog was a guide dog. On the other hand if the person who gave the blind person the dog falsely claimed they were a service dog trainer and that the dog was a guide dog, that person could be charged with fraud.
Service Animals Aren’t Always Dogs
It is worth knowing that not service animals are not legally required to be dogs, because some people have allergies or religious beliefs that prohibit them from working with dogs, there are also pigs, miniature horses and other animals trained to perform such duties. As long as the animal is properly trained, the species of the animal is irrelevant to whether or not it qualifies as a proper service animal. If you have a non-dog service animal and have been harassed by police who have accused you of service animal fraud, a criminal attorney can help you protect your rights.
Conditions that Require Service Animals
Additionally, not all service animals are trained to help the deaf or the blind, there are many medical and psychological conditions that require a service animal and, unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this fact. Again, if police have wrongly accused you of trying to commit a fraudulent activity because you have a legitimate service animal that does not help with vision or hearing impairments, a San Diego service dog fraud lawyer can help.
Penalties for This Crime
Those convicted of service animal fraud could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Fortunately, there are defenses to these charges, including ignorance of the fact that the animal was not actually properly trained as a service dog or that your animal was properly trained as a service dog even though your disability is not immediately apparent. Alternatively, if you have a disorder and have found that your pet has managed to help you better deal with the disorder, you may have wrongly believed that would qualify him or her as a service dog -but if you were not knowingly committing fraud, you cannot be convicted of this crime.
Whatever the specifics of your case, it is critical you speak with an attorney before you speak to the police. Remember that anything you say to police could inadvertently hurt your defense later on. If you have been accused of service dog fraud or have any questions about the crime, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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