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Hammer O'Justice
Hammer O'Justice, Criminal Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 4500
Experience:  Almost 12 years of legal experience, primarily in criminal law
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Over the weekend we received a principals summons for animal

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Over the weekend we received a principal's summons for animal cruelty for leaving our pets unattended in a vehicle for 20 minutes. The fine is $730 and it's also a misdemeanor. It's not a state law but a city ordinance violation. Is it worth it to go to court and hope the judge will give us a warning or should we just accept the misdemeanor charge and pay the fine? Our dogs are in great health, up-to-date on shots and we did not have any bad intentions when we made our quick stop. It was supposed to be in and out.

If you don't have a record and your animals are in otherwise good health, it might be worth going to court over to try to work out a better outcome to your case. Usually (but not always), a judge will cut first offenders a break by either reducing the fine or offering community service in lieu of the fine, or giving some kind of first offender outcome where if you stay out of trouble for a period of time set by the court the charge will ultimately be dismissed. There is a risk that the judge could stick you with the same fine plus court costs. But usually in these circumstances you can negotiate for a better outcome.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

We were told that it wouldn't be worth it. If they are charging us the maximum fine for animal cruelty, how much more expensive can it get if we do go to court and are still found guilty and charged? How much are court fees and whatever other fees normally?

Court costs vary, usually between $50 and $100 for minor cases. I would suggest calling the clerk of court's office to ask to be sure. As for whether it is worth it, it depends on the judge. Usually first offenders come away with a better deal but unfortunately there's no way to know in advance.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

How should we go in on the court date? We were told to never plead guilty... We honestly didn't know it was a law and had taken all the precautions, i.e. left the windows cracked, given our pets water, parked in the shade, etc... how should we prepare for this?

You don't have to accept a plea offer and plead guilty. Your other option is to plead not guilty and you get a trial. You can present your evidence (i.e. your testimony) about the precautions you took, the amount of time you were gone, and the overall health of your pets. The judge may find that your actions don't meet the definition of animal cruelty and find you not guilty. If you take a trial and lose, however, you risk the possibility of getting a better deal so it is up to you as to what you want to do. Essentially, your choices are between asking for a trial, risking a better offer but potentially being acquitted, or trying to work out a deal that is better than the ticket but still ending up with a guilty finding.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

How can we ask for a better deal? (is there particular wording I should use?) I don't mind paying fines, I just don't want a misdemeanor on my record... We don't want to escalate this since it's a municipal charge. Also, since it is a municipal charge, will the misdemeanor show on my criminal record affecting my being able to get security clearances, etc?

A guilty plea even at a reduced fine would result in a misdemeanor charge on your record. An ordinance that is listed as a misdemeanor is still a misdemeanor. Asking for a better deal generally just involves showing up to court early and asking the prosecutor who is handling the case what their plea offer is and trying to improve on that. They may be willing to offer you something that does not result in a conviction, like first offender's program, diversion, or community service in lieu of conviction. If they are still offering something that results in a conviction, then your only way around a conviction is by taking the case to trial and winning.


You may want to consider getting an attorney to handle this for a better chance of keeping your record clear. Since it is a relatively simple case you should be able to find one that will do it for a flat fee.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

What would be a reasonable flat fee for this type of case?

I can't say...lawyers fees vary so much from area to area. I would suggest contacting 2 or 3 (many will do an initial consultation for free) and that way you have an idea of what you could be looking at if you decide to obtain counsel. If you need help finding a criminal attorney you can use a directory like to search by practice area and location.