Detroit police argue unlicensed dogs are contraband


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The city of Detroit has filed a motion to dismiss a case filed on behalf of plaintiffs who argue their Fourth Amendment rights were violated when their dogs were killed during a drug raid because the dogs were not licensed.

Officers shot the dogs — two pit bulls and a Rottweiler — last year during a drug raid on the house where the plaintiffs, Nikita Smith and Kevin Thomas, were squatting and selling marijuana.

According to the lawsuit (detailed in a recent Metro Times cover story), Smith argued the police executed her dogs without giving her a chance to put them away. Police say they shot the dogs in self-defense. One of the dogs was in a basement, and another was in a bathroom, behind a door.

Generally, pet dogs are considered personal property and unreasonable seizure (in this case, killing) is in violation of the Fourth Amendment. But according to the motion to dismiss, filed last week in The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the city of Detroit says since the dogs were unlicensed they are considered contraband and therefore not protected property. (Of course, it would have impossible for the police to know at that time whether or not the dogs were licensed at the time of the shooting.)

According to Michigan state law, the owner of a dog that is more than four months old must apply for a license to prove it has been vaccinated against rabies, and dogs must be vaccinated every 1 to 3 years depending on the vaccine. Failure to do so is considered a misdemeanor.

In Detroit, the license fee is $15 for a non-neutered dog and $10 for a neutered or spayed dog. Vaccines are typically $15 to 20.

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