An interesting article in the New York Times puts the spotlight on the use of dogs in the courtroom. In “Dog Helps Rape Victim, 15, Testify,” Rosie, a golden retriever, is profiled. Rosie provides comfort to traumatized children who testify in court. In a recent case, she gently nudged a hesitant teenage rape victim during difficult testimony. Does the presence of Rosie and her actions of comfort go too far to prejudice the jury against a defendant? An appeal filed by two public defenders claims that it does. Stephen W. Levine and David S. Martin state that Rosie, a therapy dog by training, comforts a person who is under stress and Rosie can’t determine if “. . . the stress comes from confronting a guilty defendant or lying under oath.” They claim a witness who is stroking Rosie is subconsciously viewed by the jury as being under stress from telling the truth.
Interestingly enough, courts appear split on the issue of whether a support dog like Rosie is a gimmick or a comfort. In a recent article, Using Dogs for Emotional Support of Testifying Victims of Crime, it’s noted that while many courts view the presence of a support dog as beneficial, many judges recommend specific rules of evidence be put into place regarding the use of these dogs in the courtroom.
For more information on this topic, check out:
- Courthouse Dogs – a group that advocates for the use of properly trained dogs in courtrooms
- Marianne Dellinger, Using Dogs for Emotional Support of Testifying Victims of Crime, 15 Animal L. 171 (2009). (available through Lexis, Westlaw or WLNext)
- William Glaberson, Dog Helps Rape Victim, 15, Testify, NYTimes.com, Aug. 8, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com (Use “Search All NYTimes.com” feature and search for author’s last name)