Dogfighting Defendant's Appeal All Bark, No Bite

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 13, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Harry Hargrove -- a "legend" in the dogfighting community -- was sentenced to five years for an Animal Welfare Act violation. Recently, he appealed his sentence.

Fortunately, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had as little sympathy for Hargrove's arguments as we have for people who abuse animals.

Hargrove wanted the Fourth Circuit to roll over on his sentence; the appellate court, however, agreed that society would be better off with Hargrove doing a sit and stay in prison for the next five years.

By Hargrove's own admission, he has been involved in dogfighting activity for over 40 years. At one time he had approximately 250 fighting dogs on his property.

Last year, Hargrove pleaded guilty to selling a dog for the purpose of an animal fighting venture after he sold one of his pitbulls to an undercover informant. The statutory maximum for the offense is 60 months.

Before sentencing, a probation officer calculated Hargrove's advisory guideline range to be 10 to 16 months. Objecting to this calculation, Hargrove argued that it should be in the zero-to-six-month range. The government moved for an upward departure or variance based on extraordinary cruelty to animals, extreme conduct, and inadequacy of Hargrove's criminal history category, as well as his longstanding involvement in such activities.

The district court decided that an upward departure and an upward variance to 60 months were appropriate based on the crime.

On appeal, Hargrove argued that he should be resentenced because the district court incorrectly applied three sentencing enhancements and incorrectly determined his relevant conduct. He maintains that, without these errors, his guideline range would have been zero-to-six months. The government conceded that the court erroneously calculated Hargrove's guideline range by misapplying two enhancements, but claims that the errors were harmless under the Fourth Circuit's assumed error harmlessness inquiry.

The inquiry requires (1) knowledge that the district court would have reached the same result even if it had decided the guidelines issue the other way, and (2) a determination that the sentence would be reasonable even if the guidelines issue had been decided in the defendant's favor.

Here, the appellate court had no difficulty in concluding that the district court would have sentenced Hargrove to 60 months even if the guideline range was zero-to-six months. The court expressly said so at sentencing. The Fourth Circuit also found that the upward variance to 60 months would have been substantively reasonable, even if the court had agreed with Hargrove that the guideline range was zero-to-six months.

Reading this case through a pro-dog filter, we like to believe the Fourth Circuit is saying that people who abuse animals are terrible and should be locked up to the maximum extent of the judge's imagination. From a slightly more legal standpoint, it means that the appellate court gives deference to a sentencing judge who offers a reasonable, detailed explanation for an upward variance.

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