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The People v. Steven Berdett Lee

April 12, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. F-08-312)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholson , Acting P. J.

P. v. Lee



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Defendant Steven Berdett Lee appeals from his conviction of one count of felony cruelty to animals. (Pen. Code, § 597, subd. (b).) We affirm, concluding substantial evidence supports the conviction, and defendant's other claims of judicial error are harmless or without merit.*fn1


Defendant lived in a camper on rural property near Alturas. On August 15, 2008, Modoc County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the property and observed several dogs the deputies described as "painfully thin." "Their ribs were showing, hip bones showing, shoulder bones showing." Some "had lost clumps of hair," and some "were missing a lot of teeth."

After deputies took defendant into custody, they retrieved the dogs. Sergeant Marcus Pearce picked up five little dogs from inside defendant's camper. The camper "was full of dog feces, new stuff and old stuff, partially decayed. Flies by the hundreds. It was 97 degrees outside, by what the patrol unit said, and it was well over 100 [degrees] inside the trailer, with no water or food visible anywhere."

The deputies had heard barking coming from the second floor of a nearby shed, so they went there to investigate. There was no way for the dogs to get in or out of the shed other than a door up on the wall that Sergeant Pearce could access only by using a ladder. When he opened the door and looked in, he saw three dogs in the same condition as the others, "ribby and bones protruding and stuff. They were lethargic, didn't really get up or do anything."

He climbed into the room and retrieved the three dogs. The room was "[t]otally walled off, no windows, just one little solid door that opened to the outside. It was hard to walk up there without stepping in dog feces, either old decayed or newer stuff. There was a couple little empty pans up there. No food, no water visible or anything. . . . It smelled like dogs and dog feces. It was well over 100 degrees up in there . . . .

Sergeant Pearce was getting ready to go back down the ladder when he heard whimpering coming from the opposite side of the room and behind a small, chest-high wall. When he looked over the wall, he saw two more dogs down in a hole. The area was about two feet deep and six feet wide. There was no way for those dogs to get in or out. Sergeant Pearce had to tear part of the wall down to get to the dogs.

The entire time he was on the property, Sergeant Pearce saw no food or water left out for the dogs. The deputies found a few stacks of dog food in another shed about 150 to 200 yards away from the camper. That food was in bags that "appeared to be palletized and unopened."

Dr. Joseph Catania, a local veterinarian, testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He examined the 10 dogs removed from defendant's property. Two of the dogs were in fair condition and were released to the pound. These two were bright and very active. The other eight dogs were severely underweight and dehydrated. Dr. Catania kept them overnight for observation and to see how they would respond to food. He also started several of the dogs on fluids and antibiotics.

The following day, August 16, 2008, Dr. Catania examined the eight dogs again. From his examination, he concluded the dogs as a group "were just not being fed properly. They didn't have enough nutrition to support themselves. And that was the biggest part of what was wrong with them, the medical issues that pertained to this group of animals, the majority of which was related to malnutrition."

Dr. Catania compared each dog's weight on August 16, 2008, the day after defendant was arrested; 10 to 12 days later; and several months later on May 19, 2009, the day before defendant's trial began. Most of the dogs showed significant weight gain over those time periods, some even doubling their weight. The weights were as follows:

Weight on Aug. 16, 2008

Estimated pounds underweight

Weight 10 or 12 days later

Weight on May 19, 2009

Dog 1





Dog 2





Dog 3





Dog 4





Dog 5





Dog 6




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