Dog Gets Pro Bono Attorney in ‘Death Penalty’ Case

A pit bull in Georgia will receive pro bono legal representation to determine whether it should be euthanized after attacking a 5-year-old boy

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G.G. Rigsby / Savannah Morning News

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to legal representation for people involved in criminal cases, but it appears that canines too sometimes need a little help with their defense. This month, a pit bull in Georgia will receive pro bono legal representation in an attack case, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Kno, the dog in question, allegedly attacked a 5-year-old boy from Effingham County in July while the child was playing with a friend inside a neighbor’s house. The boy survived the mauling, but he had severe injuries and had to undergo two surgeries. The right side of his face remains paralyzed, the Huffington Post reports. WSAV says officials do not know what provoked the pit bull.

Superior Court Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. has appointed attorney Claude M. Kicklighter to represent the dog in court. Kicklighter, who will not receive a fee for his work, will also represent Kno’s owners. Woodrum said he made the decision “in the interest of justice,” the Savannah Morning News reports.

Kno’s owners surrendered him to the local animal shelter on the day of the attack, and he was classified as a dangerous animal, the Savannah Morning News notes. Effingham County filed a petition with the superior court to request a hearing to decide if Kno could be euthanized. The county does not believe Kno or his owners need an attorney.

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Kno’s hearing is set for Oct. 25, and he remains in solitary confinement at the shelter.

“There has to be a lesson for dog owners and for people not to allow their children to go to other people’s houses with dogs,” Romie Currier, animal-control director for Effingham County, told the Savannah Morning News.

The Associated Press has likened Kno’s situation to a death-penalty case. Assistant county attorney Elizabeth Pavlis told Reuters that the judge did not have to assign an attorney to represent Kno, but he likely did so “just to cover his bases.” Bruce Wagman, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in animal cases, told Reuters it is uncommon for judges to appoint attorneys to represent animals; he is aware of only two similar situations, including the Michael Vick case. In 2007, the NFL quarterback pleaded guilty to participating in an elaborate dog-fighting enterprise, and in the case, the U.S. District Court appointed a guardian and special master to advise the court regarding the best interests of 48 pit bulls seized from Vick.

There are, in fact, organizations of lawyers dedicated to the representation of animals within the legal system. New Jersey–based Lawyers in Defense of Animals claims to provide counsel to such clients as “the dog on death row” and “the cat whose guardian is evicted.” For years, there was an appointed “animal advocate” lawyer in Zurich who acted on behalf of such clients as a pike fish that experienced “excessive suffering” after a fisherman struggled (successfully) to ensnare it, according to the Guardian.

The ultimate question — present in both the Kno case and efforts in Switzerland to require an animal-rights lawyer in all districts — comes down to, as the Guardian puts it, whether animals deserve the “the same legal right to representation as any other victim in a criminal trial.”

MORE: Can Animal Rights Go Too Far?