We have all seen a veteran describing a traumatic event on the battlefield start to choke up, weep, and become so overwhelmed with emotion that he is unable to continue speaking. The same thing can happen to vulnerable witnesses, especially children, when describing a traumatic event to a jury.
The scientific evidence for the physical and mental calming effects of appropriately bred and trained dogs is overwhelming. Courthouse facility dogs are now providing emotional support to victims and witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of crimes and other stressful legal proceedings. The presence of the dogs also provides them with a positive association with the process.
For example, a little girl who had been sexually abused was brought to a child advocacy center to tell a forensic interviewer what had happened to her. When the interviewer left the room for a moment to speak with detectives, the child hugged courthouse dog Petra and said, “I love you, Petra. You really are a good dog. I’ve told you more than I’ve ever told anybody. I hope when you die, you go to heaven.”
During a murder trial, an eight-year-old girl, with courthouse dog Manny lying at her feet in the witness box, was able to describe to a jury how her uncle assaulted her grandfather, retrieved a gun from the basement, and then executed her grandfather after he fell to the floor. She was the only witness to these scenes. The jury found that her uncle had committed premeditated murder.
Appellate courts in four states have found that, in certain circumstances, this type of accommodation is appropriate for vulnerable witnesses. Seth Fine, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office chief criminal deputy, has written a concise outline of these appellate cases.
The Courthouse Dogs Foundation, a nonprofit organization, educates law enforcement and legal professionals about the benefits of using professionally trained facility dogs to assist in the investigation of crimes and legal proceedings. Join us at our 2014 International Courthouse Dog Conference at the King County Courthouse in Seattle on Oct. 27–28, 2014. This event is approved for 12.5 CLE credits.
Working Like a Dog… Courthouse Dogs Comfort Crime Victims (Dec. 2013– Jan. 2014)