Court of Appeals of Michigan (1982)
121 Mich. App. 438; 328 N.W.2d 424


On October 30, 1981, defendant stopped at Elmer's Super Value grocery store in Escanaba. Store employees suspected defendant of placing one or two steaks under his jacket. Defendant left the store without going through the cash register and upon reaching the front entrance began to run toward the parking lot where his van was parked. Inside the van was defendant's German shepherd dog. Two store employees followed defendant to the parking lot where they accused defendant of committing larceny. When defendant denied taking any merchandise, the two employees grabbed defendant. Defendant then opened the van door and either called his dog by name or said "get 'em". The dog lunged at the face of store employee Randy Berhow, striking his glasses. Berhow and the second employee, Terry Denessen, released their grip on defendant who grabbed the dog putting him back in the van. Defendant then got in the van and drove off.


Defendant was charged with . . . two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon. On February 22, 1982, the jury found defendant . . . guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon as to store employee Randy Berhow.

Law Issue

The statute in question [MCL 750.82; MSA 28.277] reads:

Any person who shall assault another with a gun, revolver, pistol, knife, iron bar, club, brass knuckles or other dangerous weapon, but without intending to commit the crime of murder, and without intending to inflict great bodily harm less than the crime of murder, shall be guilty of a felony. (Emphasis added.)

a) Element

b) Reasoning

c) Element

Defendant argues that because only inanimate objects have been found to be dangerous weapons in Michigan, a dog cannot be held to be a dangerous weapon under the Michigan statute. Although no Michigan case has spoken to the issue, a few other jurisdictions have addressed the question of whether a criminal defendant's use of a dog may be regarded as use of a dangerous weapon, as that term is defined in the various state statutes involved.

In State in the Interest of J R, 165 NJ Super 346; 398 A2d 150 (1979), the New Jersey court affirmed defendant's conviction for "assault with an offensive weapon (his dog)". The dog, a German shepherd, responded to defendant's command "sic 'er" by growling and stalking the victim. The statute claimed to have been violated, like the Michigan statute in the instant case, referred only to inanimate objects. It read:

Any person who willfully or maliciously assaults another with an offensive weapon or instrument * * * is guilty of a high misdemeanor.

Finally, in People v Torrez, 86 Misc 2d 369; 382 NYS2d 233 (1976), defendant sought a dismissal of an indictment charging him with use of a dangerous instrument, a German shepherd dog. The New York statute defined dangerous instrument in inanimate terms:

13. "Dangerous instrument" means any instrument, article or substance, including a "vehicle" as that term is defined in this section, which, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or other serious physical injury.

The court held that the statutory definition of dangerous instrument, which broadly included any article or instrument which could cause serious injury, did not exclude large dogs trained to attack.

In view of the authorities cited from other jurisdictions and the fact that the Michigan statute, like the statutes cited in the New Jersey and New York decisions, broadly defines "dangerous weapon" to include any object which, when used, may be considered dangerous, we hold that a dog may be a dangerous weapon within the meaning of MCL 750.82; MSA 28.277. We reject defendant's claim that MCL 750.82; MSA 28.277 per se excludes animate objects.

The fact that one is inanimate and the other animate is not controlling. It is the manner in which the instrumentality is used and the nature of the act which determines whether the instrumentality is dangerous.


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