Cute animals long ago took over the Internet, so is it any surprise they are now making a play for our halls of justice? That at least was our first response when reading this awesome story in the Times about the growing trend of (and recent moves to stop) courthouse dogs helping young and emotionally disturbed witnesses testify in court. Move over war dogs, there is a new awesome canine in town.
According to CourthouseDogs.com friendly, well-trained service dogs have been helping witnesses on the stand around the country since 2003. Specifically they are used to provide "comfort to sexually abused children while they undergo forensic interviews and testify in court. The dogs also assist drug court participants in their recovery, visit juveniles in detention facilities, greet jurors and lift the spirits of courthouse staff who often conduct their business in an adversarial setting."
The reason the Times brings up the apparently growing trend of bringing cute animals into court is because the practice is about to face its first real legal battle here in New York, where courthouse dogs only recently became a thing. In particular, two public defenders, David Martin and Steven Levine, have raised objections regarding Rosie, the first judicially-approved courtroom dog in New York, who helped a 15-year-old girl testify that her father had raped and impregnated her earlier this summer (he was found guilty). “Every time she stroked the dog,” Martin told the Times, “it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth. There was no way for me to cross-examine the dog."
Martin doesn't have anything against Rosie or other courtroom dogs, he just thinks such animals make it easier for juries, arguably unfairly, to sympathize with witnesses. Because if a dog's instinct is to provide comfort in stressful situations, how can the dog (or the jury) know if a witness is stressed because they are confronting a guilty defendant...or because they are lying under oath?
Martin and Levine's appeal against Rosie's first courtroom outing is set to work its way through the New York appeals system—“It is an important case, and appeals courts will consider it an important case,” James A. Cohen, a professor of criminal law at Fordham University School of Law, said. Meanwhile courthouse dogs across the country keeps doing their thing—and we are totally smitten.