Dogs in courtroom

Merry - posted on 08/16/2011 ( 2 moms have responded )




Law and Order: K-9

By Joe Wilkes

If you’ve ever watched one of the popular Law & Order shows, you’re familiar with the format where they spend half the show catching the criminals and the other half prosecuting them. In real life, dogs have been highly involved in police work—including tracking scent trails, searching for drugs, participating in rescue operations, and chasing and guarding suspects. Some police dogs even have badges just like their human counterparts. And now, dogs have been found to be of use in the other half of the justice system—the courtroom.

Last week, The New York Times profiled Rosie, a golden retriever, and one of the latest in a new breed of canine assistants. The 11-year-old service dog has been enlisted to help a number of special witnesses, mostly children, teenagers, or the developmentally disabled, testify in court. Rosie’s clients are typically victims of sexual or physical abuse or witnesses to traumatic events such as the murder of a family member.

Rosie is trained to sit with witnesses during testimony and comfort them when she senses their stress. By being nearby to be stroked or simply as a friendly presence in a stark environment, Rosie and her canine colleagues have been able to help elicit traumatic testimonies that their human attorney partners say might not have otherwise been able to be presented. When children have to face their victimizers (often parents or other family members) in court, Rosie is there to help them get through the worst parts. Another dog, named Ellie, was reported by The Times to have assisted a 57-year-old developmentally disabled man get through his testimony against a man who stole from him, testimony the victim said would have been difficult to articulate without Ellie’s support.

It’s been well documented how empathic dogs are to human emotions. All of us with dogs know what it’s like when you come home from a tough day at work or get some bad news over the phone. Your dog somehow knows that the time for “fetch” isn’t now. Instead they’ll lie next to you quietly while you process what you’re going through, or gently put their head on your knee, letting you know that they’re there for you. What’s really remarkable is they can even sense it in strangers and that’s where they can be trained to act as in-court therapists.

In many ways, it’s an ideal scenario. The dogs are able to comfort and support the witness while they express very difficult testimony—testimony that many experts argue might not have been otherwise gathered. And unlike a human therapist or supporter, the dogs don’t have the verbal ability to lead or coach the witness in their testimony, so the words that come out are from the witness and the witness alone. There has been some argument that the cuteness of the dogs might improperly influence juries. In fact, The Times reported that a man accused of murdering his girlfriend, the mother of two young girls, decided to change his plea to guilty upon hearing Rosie would be showing up for the prosecution to help the daughters testify.

The permissibility of using therapy dogs as aides for witnesses is still working its way through the legal system in most states, but it’s hard not to argue that the value of the testimony the dogs are capable of facilitating, as well as the relief provided the victim or witness, far outweigh any other considerations. So, who knows? It may not be long before Law & Order creator Dick Wolf (come on, his name’s Wolf, right?!) decides it’s time to franchise his series to our four-legged friends.

*^#^*+*pretty cool I think! It would definitely help me if I needed to relive traumatic things in court, how about you? Do you think this is a good thing?


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