There ought to be a law! That is the standard knee-jerk response whenever a problem crops up in society. America is being buried in an avalanche of “laws”, some of which emanate from local civil governments. The “Dog at Large” provision of the animal control ordinance being considered in Ravalli County is a good example.
In any criminal action, there are always two sides involved—the perpetrator and the victim. In this particular case, the owner of the at-large dog is the perpetrator. The victim is the person or entity who is harmed in some way. This may range from a simple trespass to pooping on lawns to digging up flower beds to an actual attack on a person or other animals.
This problem was addressed thousands of years ago. In the case laws of Exodus, Moses issued guidelines which are still relevant today. Restitution to the victim by the perpetrator was always listed as just and fair. The victim had to be fully compensated for his loss.
In an article dated Feb. 20, 2013, the Bitterroot Star mentioned several times that Justice of the Peace Robin Clute is in favor of restitution as part of the penalty. She should be supported in this. The restitution would be in addition to fines levied which would range between $50 and $500. I suggest that the amount of the fine should equal the total of all legal costs incurred to prosecute the case. It almost certainly would be more than $50 and might easily run into the thousands. Put that burden on the guilty party. Make the offense expensive.
Clute and fellow JP Jim Bailey also might impose imprisonment on repeat offenders. I do not agree with this for many reasons, two of which are listed below.
• Imprisonment costs a lot of money. Invariably, the ones who pay are not guilty of the crime, they are taxpayers. Why should they pick up the tab for the crime committed? Justice is not served by forcibly extracting money from innocent parties to pay for the criminal act of someone else.
• Restitution and biblical law are designed to be restorative, not only to the victim but also to the criminal. Once proper restitution has been made, the guilty party should be released from any further obligation, hopefully wiser and more careful. Imprisonment, however, saddles a person with a criminal record for the rest of his life. Regardless of the time served, penalties paid, or the life changes made, a person can never escape that. He is branded for life.
Laws passed and enforced do not necessarily equal justice. Justice dictates that the guilty person pays his victim full and complete restitution. It is the responsibility of judges and magistrates to ensure this happens.
We don’t need another law telling us what we can’t do. We need righteous judges to make righteous decisions.