Are Courtroom Dogs Too Cute For a Fair Trial?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While recently testifying that her father had raped and impregnated her, a 15-year-old girl from New York was accompanied by Rosie, the state's first judicially-approved courtroom dog.

Trained to sense emotional distress, the Golden Retriever nudged the girl and gave her comfort as she spoke about the abuse, helping her through testimony that she might not have otherwise been able to give.

Now her father's attorneys are appealing the conviction, saying that Rosie and other courtroom dogs unfairly sway jurors.

After all, what's cuter than a child nuzzling an adorable dog?

To put the issue of courtroom dogs in perspective, along with a few other states, the New York Times reports that Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, and Washington have allowed emotional support animals to be used to aid in the testimony of particularly vulnerable witnesses.

While such testimony is important from an evidentiary standpoint, a judge is still tasked with not admitting evidence, or allowing courtroom behavior, that unfairly prejudices the jury in a way that may harm the defendant.

It's not that absurd to argue that a defendant is prejudiced because a child cuddling a dog conveys a sense of innocence, making the witness a more believable victim despite what she may say.

And it's also not that absurd to argue that the presence of such a dog informs the jury about a witness' mental state without her having to speak a word.

So while courtroom dogs are a wonderful tool, in some situations, their use may violate a defendant's rights.

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