Going to the Dogs

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"I've prosecuted 24 jury trials and hundreds of hearings," he says. "I've won probably close to two-thirds. It's not like I don't know what I'm doing."

So McGuire visited Denver County's Environmental Court, a blue-carpet and fluorescent-light-type place where city attorneys and magistrate judges hash out all manner of minor violations such as unkempt lawns, ratty apartments, smoke-belching cars and giant martini-glass sculptures set ablaze on New Year's Eve. And there, amid people with unkempt lawns, ratty apartments, smoky cars and martini-glass sculptures, McGuire approached Assistant City Attorney D. Brett Woods.

Look, McGuire explained. Roscoe was not on a leash, but he wasn't running amok, either. He was simply walking at his master's side under the "heel" command. So how about dismissing the charges?

No, Woods said.

Then how about a deferred prosecution, wherein McGuire would promise not to break the leash law again, and ultimately the charges would be dismissed?


A deferred judgment?


Pleading guilty to a non-criminal charge?


Every time McGuire presented a possible plea bargain, Woods said no, no and no.

"All he said was that if I agreed not to dispute the facts, he'd recommend that I didn't get jail," McGuire recalls. "Now, come on. To me, that was nothing. I knew they don't put people in jail for this. It was nonsense."

Woods says he can't comment on McGuire's case specifically, because it's still pending. But in general, he explains, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the city does not grant such deals as deferred prosecution and deferred judgments for leash-law violations. If it did, everyone and their dog would want one. "It's just not worth it," Woods says.

Although a leash-law violation is a criminal offense, as are other municipal-ordinance infractions such as spitting on sidewalks and playing your stereo too loud, it is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor, but its own unique category. "All of these can theoretically land you in jail," says Woods, "but they seldom, if ever, do." And since offenders usually are not booked into jail, a leash-law conviction probably wouldn't appear on a rap sheet, either.

McGuire didn't want to take any chances.

"I want a jury trial," he said.

In September 1998, McGuire walked into the courtroom of Denver County Judge Robert Crew, "all ready to go," he remembers. He had cracked open his law books, combed case histories and sliced and diced Section 8-16 into tiny pieces. "I prepared for this like I'd prepare for any criminal trial for any client," he explains. Among his arguments: The city's almost-fifty-year-old leash law is "unconstitutionally vague."

In preparation for trial, McGuire had requested numerous documents, including the background of the animal-control officers who'd cited him, and offered an unusual list of exhibits, including a dog transport cage, a hat and an obedience-course degree. He even listed Roscoe as a potential witness. "That really hacked them off," he says. "But I figured if I could get the jury to see Roscoe for themselves, they would understand." McGuire also filed numerous motions challenging the constitutionality of the leash law. But the judge dismissed them, so as far as the city was concerned, the only issue remaining for consideration at trial was whether Roscoe had been wearing a leash.

When McGuire arrived for his day in court, the judge called him and Woods into his chambers. And there, McGuire contends, the judge told him: "Mr. McGuire, there isn't going to be a jury trial. Even if you find six animal lovers who find you not guilty, I'm going to enter a judgment against you."

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it," McGuire recalls. "I had worked as a police officer and a prosecutor and had been in a number of courts on both levels. I had never heard a judge say anything like that. I was dumbfounded. A judge isn't supposed to do that. If they have opinions, they do not express them. And if they are predisposed, they should not be on the case. They don't say things that indicate that they are not impartial."

Crew says he can't comment on the case because it's pending; Woods can't discuss what happened in judge's chambers, either. But according to McGuire, after Crew made the comment about overruling the jury, the judge said he wanted McGuire and Woods to review the facts of the case -- essentially, that Roscoe was not wearing a leash -- and then return to open court, where McGuire would state them for the record.

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Harrison Fletcher

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