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October 3, 2013

3

State v. Dye: Every Dog Has His Day…in Court

by contributor
golden retriever therapy dog
The WA Supreme Court weighs in on the use of comfort dogs in court.

golden retriever therapy dog

Man’s best friend has taken on an important role in today’s society, far surpassing what Lassie began. We’re familiar with dogs being used in certain capacities: seeing Eye dogs, drug sniff dogs, and even seizure dogs. Law school libraries have even kept dogs on hand during high stress study times to reduce student anxiety. In the past decade, dogs have also been used increasingly in court.

In State v. Dye, the Washington Supreme Court threw prosecutor’s a bone in ruling that use of a facility dog (assigned to the court house to provide comfort to witnesses) was not unduly prejudicial and did not violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Washington state has been at the forefront of using canines in court. King County started using them in 2004 and since then, “34 specially trained dogs are at work in 17 states… [and] Skagit, Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, and Clark counties.” See Seattle Times Sept. 22, 2012. In fact, the nonprofit organization Courthouse Dogs began right here.

State v. Dye Facts

Dye involves a love triangle between Alesha Lair, defendant Timothy Dye, and victim Douglas Lare. See ABC News “Love Lies and Debt”. Alesha (convicted on separate theft charges) began an illicit relationship with Douglas while simultaneously maintaining her relationship with Timothy. Notably, Douglas in this case had cerebral palsy, Kallmann Syndrome, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Although an adult, his mental acuity was actually that of a child. Alesha moved in with Douglas and eventually exploited him for tens of thousands of dollars. After moving out, Alesha and Timothy continued to steal things from Douglas. Ultimately, Timothy was convicted of residential burglary and appealed, claiming that Douglas’s testimony with a facility dog violated his right to due process and a fair trial.

State v. Dye Anaylsis and Practice Tips

The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing Douglas to testify with the aid of a facility dog. The facts in Dye, however, are nuanced. For one, the victim in that case, although an adult, had developmental disabilities such that his capacity was that of a child. Furthermore, the victim had always given testimony with the aid of the facility dog. These are important distinctions because Dye is not a case that permits the Court to “go to the dogs.” Criminal defense attorneys can still argue that the presence of a facility dog is unduly prejudicial and creates bias among the jury if the witness is an adult or does not possess the characteristics of the victim in Dye.

Prosecutors need to make sure to form a solid basis for the use of a facility dog in court. In this case, the trial court noted that the victim had consistently requested the aid of the facility dog. Also, nothing in this decision precludes the defendant from testifying with a facility dog given the proper circumstance.

Every dog can have his day, in court — that is, as long as the needs of the individual are balanced appropriately against the rights of the defendant.

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