Pit bull dogs and other powerful breeds have a reputation for being violent and unpredictable, thanks in no small part to the way the media cover reported dog attacks. Many dog owners and animal rights organizations argue that this coverage is unfair, that owners are responsible for their dogs’ behavior and pit bulls are just like any other dogs.
Now, a state prosecutor here in New Jersey has apparently decided to step into this debate, charging a couple with robbery here in Morristown. The complicating factor? Their pit bull dog, which they allegedly used as a weapon in committing the crime.
Police claim that the defendant couple were sitting in their car on a street when they called out to a man walking by. As he approached the car, he says that he noticed a pit bull in the vehicle as well. That’s when the couple allegedly told him that they would sic the dog on him if he did not hand over his phone and cash. He later told police that he did give them his phone and around $100 cash.
Police have arrested a young couple in their early twenties with a pit bull and charged them with second-degree robbery. They are being held on $20,000 bail each, which they have tried to convince a judge they cannot pay. They also have a 3-year-old daughter who needs their care.
To complicate matters for the defendants, officials have stated that the charges may be raised to first degree robbery — punishable by up to 20 years in prison — because the dog could be considered a deadly weapon. Use of a deadly weapon during an alleged robbery typically elevates the charges, along with the potential penalties.
While the authorities debate over whether an animal is a deadly weapon, a couple (who are entitled to a presumption of innocence, just like any New Jersey residents) sit in jail, unable to tend to their young daughter. What will happen to their dog — which is not accused of attacking anyone — is unclear at this point.
Clearly, theft charges can have serious consequences for defendants even before they’ve had a chance to defend themselves in court. A criminal defense professional’s intervention in the earliest stages of a criminal case can play a deciding role in how quickly defendants are able to get back to their normal lives.