The meaningful collection of forensic evidence is essential in dog bite litigation when the identity of the dog cannot be accurately determined. This could happen because the victim is unable to accurately identify the dog, or because the dog left the scene after the attack happened.
Identifying the dog involved in an incident also becomes problematic if the owners of the dog assert that their dog was not involved, as frequently happens in civil cases. Moreover, in fatal dog attacks involving a pack of dogs, more often than not uncertainty exists about which dogs were involved, or if they were involved at all, in the incident. For example, in one the fatal dog attack in rural South Carolina which happened in the early morning, the prosecution charged the owner with manslaughter. The defense argued that the defendant’s dogs were not involved because all three dogs were home sleeping at the time of the incident. The defendant was acquitted at trial
When uncertainty exists, certain information needs to be collected, if feasible, to rule out a suspect dog. This obviously assumes that the injuries to the victim were caused by a dog, and not by some other animal, or by some other means. Occasionally relevant forensic information may be ignored, for reasons which may stem from the fact that investigators are ignorant of what needs to be preserved or collected in a suspected dog bite case, or because an incident doesn’t come to the attention of authorities until well after the attack happened, hence information is lost. Nonetheless, in criminal cases, if the relevant forensic information is not collected, this might compromise the ability to prosecute a dog owner.
Collection of forensic evidence necessitates access to the suspect dog, preferably as soon after the incident as possible in order to determine if there was any transference of meaningful information from the victim to the dog or vice versa. This might include blood, hair, or clothing fiber from the victim transferred to the dog’s coat. Likewise, the victim needs to be examined to determine if blood from the dog, hair or its saliva is on the victim. Measurement of the distance between the dog’s upper canine teeth can also be made to determine if they approximately align with puncture wounds on the victim’s body.
The collection of forensic evidence aims to connect or match evidence between the dog and victim. Evidence like this is non-circumstantial and differs from evidence such as an evaluation of the dog’s temperament and the likelihood that the dog would attack a human. Determining if a match exists between physical evidence is highly accurate through the application of DNA analysis. The interested reader should consult the publication of Bruner, et. al. for amplification of the techniques involved in this pursuit (Bruner, J. et. al. DNA profiling of trace evidence – mitigating evidence in a dog biting case. J. Forensic Science, 2001, 46, 1232-1234).
The 10 most important pieces of forensic evidence to collect in dog bite litigation
- DNA from the suspected dogs involved in an incident;
- Blood or saliva which may have been transferred from the dog to the victim or vice versa;
- Hair, clothing fiber found on the dog;
- Dental impressions of the dog or measurement of the distance between the dog’s canine teeth:
- Detailed photographs and measurements of the wounds or scratches on the victim;
- Photograph of the suspect dogs and location where the incident took place;
- Measurements which include fences, gates, distance traveled by the dog to reach the victim;
- Witness, police, animal control and veterinary reports;
- Breed, size, a behavioral history of the suspect dogs;
- Temperamental evaluation of the suspect dogs, if deemed necessary.