Our amazing canine friends!
By Helping a Girl Testify at a Rape Trial, a Dog Ignites a Legal DebateThe grounds for the appeal was the dog was so appealing that it prejudiced the jury. What do you think? Should dogs be allowed to be in court?Kelly Shimoda for The New York Times
Rosie, who comforts traumatized children and aided a teenager on the stand in a rape trial, outside the Dutchess County Courthouse in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with Dale Picard.
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
Published: August 8, 2011
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — Rosie, the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York, was in the witness box here nuzzling a 15-year-old girl who was testifying that her father had raped and impregnated her. Rosie sat by the teenager’s feet. At particularly bad moments, she leaned in.
When the trial ended in June with the father’s conviction, the teenager “was most grateful to Rosie above all,” said David A. Crenshaw, a psychologist who works with the teenager.
“She just kept hugging Rosie,” he continued.
Now an appeal planned by the defense lawyers is placing Rosie at the heart of a legal debate that will test whether there will be more Rosies in courtrooms in New York and, possibly, other states.
Rosie is a golden retriever therapy dog who specializes in comforting people when they are under stress. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers have described her as adorable, though she has been known to slobber.
Prosecutors here noted that she is also in the vanguard of a growing trial trend: in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana and some other states in the last few years, courts have allowed such trained dogs to offer children and other vulnerable witnesses nuzzling solace in front of juries.
The new role for dogs as testimony enablers can, however, raise thorny legal questions. Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not, and some prosecutors insist that the courtroom dogs can be a crucial comfort to those enduring the ordeal of testifying, especially children.
The new witness-stand role for dogs in several states began in 2003, when the prosecution won permission for a dog named Jeeter with a beige button nose to help in a sexual assault case in Seattle. “Sometimes the dog means the difference between a conviction and an acquittal,” said Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, a prosecutor there who has become a campaigner for the dog-in-court cause.
Service dogs have long been permitted in courts. But in a ruling in June that allowed Rosie to accompany the teenage rape victim to the trial here, a Dutchess County Court judge, Stephen L. Greller, said the teenager was traumatized and the defendant, Victor Tohom, appeared threatening. Although he said there was no precedent in the state, Judge Greller ruled that Rosie was similar to the teddy bear that a New York appeals court said in 1994 could accompany a child witness.