I don’t often mix legal stuff with my blog but every once in a while something pops up that needs to go mainstream.
Comfort Dogs. Have you heard of them? Comfort dogs are dogs that are used during a court proceeding to comfort a witness, usually a child, while present to give stressful testimony. The dog does not accompany the witness on the stand and is kept from the jury’s line of sight while the witness is testifying. Comfort dogs have been proven invaluable in helping children testify in court particularly as it relates to a trauma, which can be (but is not always) related to a sex crime.
A lawyer in New York is calling the use of comfort dogs into question. The attorney is appealing the verdict convicting his client of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old girl because the girl was allowed to use a comfort dog during the trial. The attorney argues in part that the mere presence of the dog suggests that the witness is telling the truth which goes to the credibility questions that a jury should be deciding and may subconsciously affect a jury’s decision-making.
It is an interesting legal question and I can understand why the criminal lawyer is doing his damnedest to argue that his client was prejudiced by the presence of the dog.
Another interesting thought related to the use of comfort dogs, also sometimes referred to as therapy dogs is that they are generally not considered to be “service animals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore can be denied access to public places where in fact their own. The fact that the animal offers comfort, does not legally fit into the definition of a “service animal”.
The entire article can be found here.