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United States v. Kizeart

September 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

Court's Sentencing Memorandum

The Court, as part of its sentencing obligation, is to consider the "the nature and circumstances of the offense."*fn1 With that obligation in mind, the Court enters this sentencing memorandum regarding dog fighting. Unlike drug and gun cases, this Court has no experience with the crime of dog fighting and felt additional background and research was necessary to fulfill its sentencing obligation. This memorandum is entered well in advance of the sentencing hearing in the instant case in order to provide the parties with research the Court has gleaned outside the record in this case.

I. Introduction

Dog fighting has attracted much social attention in recent years. Although it was once considered an acceptable form of entertainment, today it is illegal in all 50 states and by Act of Congress. This memo will explore the unseemly world of dog fighting, discussing the origin and the history of dog fighting, the procedures for training dogs and holding dog fights today and notable dog fighting cases which serve as an example and reference for the judiciary, such as Michael Vick's case.

This review of the history and methodology of dog fighting is generic; that is, it is not meant to be construed as applicable to the cases currently on the Court's docket which have their own histories and fact patterns.

II. History of Dog Fighting in the United States

Dog fighting began in the United States as a cultural import from England. While historians believe that dog fighting was introduced to colonial America as early as 1750, the blood sport did not gain in popularity in America until the nineteenth century.*fn2 The surge in popularity corresponded with a surge in England around the same time. Parliament passed the Humane Act of 1835,*fn3 which banned baiting sports-when dogs would fight larger animals, like bulls and bears, while the larger animal was tethered to stake.*fn4 Baiting sports were enormously popular within all circles of British society. With the new ban on these activities, dog handlers and baiting enthusiasts were left searching for a legal substitute to fill the void. As an alternative to baiting events, handlers of fighting dogs began to stage dog fights.*fn5 While fighting events between larger animals and dogs were banned, dog fighting was a legal alternative that British society could enjoy.*fn6

English and Irish immigrants arrived to the United States, bringing their fighting dogs with them. As a result, fighting dogs began to arrive in large numbers to the United States, initiating the start of a popular pastime for American culture. Initially, the sport was endorsed by the United Kennel Club, and the organization provided official rules and referees.*fn7 Immensely popular among firefighters and police officers, dog fighting events became common entertainment for the working class in the United States, so much so that public forums, like local taverns and sporting halls, would regularly host dog fights.*fn8 During the height of the sport's popularity, upcoming dog fights would be advertised in national magazines, like the National Police Gazette.*fn9 The blood sport was so popular with Americans that railroad companies would even offer special fares to a dog fight.*fn10 Despite the popularity, local state legislatures began to ban the sport during the 1860s but did little to enforce the new laws.*fn11 Lax enforcement resulted in the continued popularity of the sport to the 1930s, when the support of the United Kennel Club as well as other high profile organizations was lost, driving dog fighting underground.*fn12

During the late 1960s, dog fighting received a new resurgence because two periodicals dedicated to the sport of dog fighting were published. Both Sporting Dog Journal and Pit Dog Report helped renew interest by providing information about dog fighting. As a result of these periodicals, the numbers of dog fights in the United States increased.*fn13

III. Dog Fighting on an International Scale

Presently, despite an almost global ban on dog fighting, the sport has grown into a billion dollar industry and continues to draw new fans and handlers each year.*fn14 In countries where dog fighting is illegal, the sport continues to surreptitiously grow at an accelerated rate out of the public eye. "Legal or not, dog fights are openly held in parts of Latin America, Pakistan and Eastern Europe, and clandestinely in the U.S. and the United Kingdom."*fn15 In the United Kingdom, for example, the government has issued reports stating dog fighting has gone up 400% in the last three years and is expected to continue to gain in popularity, especially among children and teenagers.*fn16

Afghanistan is another country that has seen an increase in dog fighting in recent years. Originally banned by the Taliban, who viewed the sport as "un-Islamic," dog fighting was an almost unheard of practice under the Taliban rule, but since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of the sport as a form of entertainment.*fn17 In the capital of Afghanistan, dog fights draw as many as 2000 people in attendance, and betting pots run as high as $10,000.*fn18 Furthermore, in Italy, the sport flourishes under the control of the Italian Mafia, which makes an estimated five hundred million dollars yearly from it.*fn19

While some countries have outlawed dog fighting, it has not been specifically banned in many parts of Eurasia. Russia, for example, is one country where dog fighting is legal, with the exception of the capital city of Moscow, and has experienced a new surge of popularity for dog fighting as a source of entertainment for the locals. It is growing especially popular among young people, who view owning a fighting dog as a status symbol in Russian culture.*fn20 Like Russia, Japan is another country which has sanctioned dog fighting, in almost all parts of the country.*fn21

However, Japanese dog fighting is not as lethal as it is elsewhere. Comparable to Sumo wrestling, Japanese dog fights are judged by points, while dogs attempt simply to pin their opponent to the floor, as opposed to merely inflicting as much damages as possible onto the other dog. Like Sumo wrestlers, the fighting dogs are ranked according to their success rate and don ceremonial dressings at fights.*fn22 Dating back to the times of the Samurai, Japanese dog fighting is not as popular as it once was but still attracts tens of thousands every year.*fn23

IV. The Details of the Blood Sport

a. The Levels of Dog Fighting

Like other criminal activities, law enforcement agents profile dog fighters according to their level of sophistication. The three categories in which law enforcement classifies dog handlers are professionals, hobbyists, and street fighters.*fn24

Professional dog fighting is both lucrative and well organized. Regarded as the most sophisticated group of dog fighters, professional handlers focus on the monetary gains to be had from fighting, breeding, or selling fighting dogs.*fn25 To professional handlers, dogs are viewed only as investments, and as a result, the dogs are constantly evaluated for their potential return rate. If a dog is a poor investment, the dog will either be killed or abandoned. In an effort to increase their profits, professional handlers will keep a larger number of dogs, usually fifty or more at a time.*fn26 Because professional handlers fight dogs for monetary returns, creating the best specimen for fighting is their main concern. Professional handlers are careful to record each dog's training regiment in what is referred to as a 'keep journal.' Here the handlers record all the details of a dog's training, including the nutrition and drugs that are injected into the dog. These journals are kept secret, so that another handler does not discover the training techniques.*fn27

Often, professional handlers will travel long distances to participate at larger events that offer a higher purse. Because large amounts of money exchange hands at professional dog fighting events, they sophisticated organization and security and, as a result, are notoriously difficult for police to infiltrate.*fn28 Most events require knowledge of code words and identification before a person is allowed to enter.*fn29 To guard against police raids, organizers may listen to police monitors, and armed guards sometimes patrol the venue, careful to keep an eye open for law enforcement or others who would disrupt the event.*fn30 According to reports, officials believe that there are roughly forty thousand active professional dog fighters in the United States and that the number will continue to rise as long as dog fighting remains lucrative.*fn31

Like professionals, hobbyists also view dog fighting as a lucrative venture but are more drawn to the sport for its entertainment value.*fn32 While most hobbyists occasionally fight their dogs for money, the majority of their involvement in the sport comes from being spectators and wagering on the fights.*fn33 Generally, ...

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