This isn't exactly a new story. In fact,I started discussing this all the way back in 2009, but there is some more information I want to pass along as there have been several recent cases against Miami-Dade and the constitutionality of how the enforce their 20 year old pit bull ban.
In March, 2010, Circuit Court in Miami-Dade county ruled in the case of Cardelle v Miami-Dade County Code Enforcement that the manner in which Miami-Dade's Breed Ban was enforced was ruled to violate Constitutional rights of due process. You can read the entire case ruling here -- with a hat tip to Dangeerous Dog Law for posting the actual case.
Now, before I dive into the specifics of the case, I want to be clear. The case does not say that Miami-Dade's ban is in violation of the law -- but it does say that how they are enforcing the law is in violation of due process -- and the case potentially sets a precedent that may make enforcement of BSL even more costly for cities around the country.
The ruling found that there were violations in due process in three different areas :
1) Even though the prosecuting officer, officer Casadevell, offered a fairly solid amount of 'expertise" in animal control, the judge ruled that he could not be considered an 'expert' in 'pit bull' identification. According to previous US Supreme Court rulings, a series of criteria must be available before someone can be considered an 'expert', including testing, peer review, potential error rates and general acceptance in a relevant community. However, because there are no error rates, statistics or objective standards for comparison, the court found that the county applies only "subjective criteria and there is little or no peer review."
It was noted that Casadevall, the officer who declared the dog in question to be a 'pit bull', had 15 years of experience and had ID'd roughly 1,000 dogs -- and that that did make him an expert. But the court disagreed.
"Officer Casadevall freely admited that he merely performs the inspections and does nothing to gather data, perform quality control and validate existing data. He offered nothing in the way of error checking and peer reviews of his work...there are no procedures in place to verify his findings and validate his previous opinions as to whether he correctly identified pit bulls, the mere quantity of his inspections does not render his opinion reliable." (Emphasis mine)
The court noted that in other field-work type cases that there is a scientific way to determine an officer's level of expertise. In marajuana cases, a lab test can confirm whether or not an officer was right in his assertion that something is marajuana, and in field sobriety checks, science can verify actual sobriety to determine the accuracy of the tests.
Nothing like this exists in the realm of deterimining whether or not a dog is a 'pit bull'.
2) The second area of violation of due process centers around the hearing officer demonstrating bias toward Officer Casadevall's testimony based on the preconceived belief that officers are credible. I won't talk much about this, but it seems to tie into the above rationale that the officer isn't really an 'expert' in pit bull identification, and thus, his opinion shouldn't be waited above the opinions of others.
3) The third area of due process violation was that the hearing officer apparently made numerous comments that he was inclined to find the dog to be a 'pit bull' based on his fears that the dog would eventually hurt someone. In doing so, the "officer relied on an impermissile factor - fear of future harm." Prior court rulings note that a court cannot rule someone guilty over the fear that they may cause future harm (which is very Minority Report-esque). This one makes me question whether the whole idea of breed bans - banning something based on the fear of future harm -- isn't in question...but that isn't really addressed in this case.
I think the big win here is that it seems very clear from this ruling (which was ruled 4-1 with one dissenting opinion) is that it sets a precedent that an animal control officer, even an experienced one, cannot be instantly given the title of "pit bull identification expert" without any science, proof or peer review behind it because it then allows for too much subjectivity in the way of determining guilt. Overcoming this barrier of "the dog is a pit bull because I say it is" will be extremely costly for most cities to overcome in the future.
Would love to get the thoughts of some of the lawyers in the room (who would be more knowledgable than I am about how to interpret and apply this ruling).
And again, h/t to Dangerous Dog Law for the full case report.