Was dog’s presence in court unfair advantage?
That question may be headed to New York state’s highest court in a case in which the state’s first judicially approved courtroom dog sat in the witness box with a 15-year-old girl as she testified that her father raped and impregnated her.
The father went on to be convicted, but defense lawyers are appealing, saying that the courtroom dog — a golden retriever named Rosie — may have swayed jurors, according to a report in The New York Times.
Rosie is a therapy dog who specializes in comforting children and other vulnerable witnesses and victims – one of a growing number of which are being used by prosecutors to put crime victims at ease. They’ve been allowed in courtrooms in Arizona, Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho and other states.
Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness, that they can evoke sympathy for a victim, and that they can even be seen by some as a reason to trust the human they’re alongside.
The new witness-stand role for dogs in a handful of states began in 2003, when the prosecution won permission to use a dog named Jeeter in a sexual assault case in Seattle.
In a ruling in June that allowed Rosie to accompany the teenage rape victim, Dutchess County Court judge Stephen L. Greller said the teenager was traumatized and the defendant, Victor Tohom, appeared threatening. Greller ruled that Rosie was similar to the teddy bear that a New York state appeals court said in 1994 could accompany a child witness.
At least once when the teenager hesitated in Judge Greller’s courtroom, Rosie rose and seemed to push the girl gently with her nose.
Lawyers for the father, who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life, have raised a series of objections that they say seem likely to land the case in New York’s highest court. They argue that jurors are likely to conclude that the dog is helping victims expose the truth.
Rosie’s presence “infected the trial with such unfairness” that it constituted a violation of their client’s constitutional rights.
Since that case, Rosie has been busy, the Times reports. She spent recent weeks with two girls, ages 5 and 11, who were getting ready to testify against the man accused of murder in the stabbing of their mother.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 8th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 15 year old, appeal, comfort, convicted, courtroom dog, criminal, defendant, defense, dutchess county, father, judge, jurors, new york, rape, rose, rosie, stephen greller, sway, symbols, sympathy, testimony, therapy dogs, trials, trust, truth, unfair, victim, victor tohom, witness stand