August 8, 2011

Is it fair for courts to allow vulnerable witnesses to have a dog to hug and pet during testimony?

NYT reports:
[I]n a ruling in June that allowed Rosie to accompany the teenage rape victim to the trial here, a Dutchess County Court judge, Stephen L. Greller, said the teenager was traumatized and the defendant, Victor Tohom, appeared threatening. Although he said there was no precedent in the state, Judge Greller ruled that Rosie was similar to the teddy bear that a New York state appeals court said in 1994 could accompany a child witness.

At least once when the teenager hesitated in Judge Greller’s courtroom, Rosie rose and seemed to push the girl gently with her nose. Mr. Tohom was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

His public defenders, David S. Martin and Steven W. Levine, have raised a series of objections that they say seem likely to land the case in New York’s highest court. They argue that as a therapy dog, Rosie responds to people under stress by comforting them, whether the stress comes from confronting a guilty defendant or lying under oath.

But they say jurors are likely to conclude that the dog is helping victims expose the truth. “Every time she stroked the dog,” Mr. Martin said in an interview, “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,” Mr. Martin said.
A dog is distinctly different from a teddy bear, isn't it?

61 comments:

chickenlittle said...

Imagine if Titus were a witness at a trial for public defecation. Should he be allowed to testify with his rare clumber?

Fred4Pres said...

Yes, Titus should absolutely have the rare clumber for any sort of testifying under oath.

Irene said...

Oh good grief. Even a relationship with a dog can't be "normal" any longer.

Fred4Pres said...

I would like to see a dog like Goliath who would tilt his head and look quiscally at the witness if they were lying and then say the witnesses name.

Is that possible?

Fred4Pres said...

I offered to take the rare clumber if anything ever happened to Titus. That offer still stands.

Maguro said...

No Titus posts for the last couple days.

Has Sixty Grit offed him already?

jimbino said...

A comfort dog should be allowed as long as it has been thoroughly laundered beforehand to get rid of the problem of the 45+ zoonoses it could transmit to the public in attendance at the trial and as long as it is screened from view so as not to transmit demeanor evidence to the jury.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

I've had to deal with a somewhat analogous situation at Farmers' Market, which prohibits animals because there is a great deal of food there, some of it in the open and being sampled under Health Department restrictions.

The Health Department quite rightly says "No Animals" -- meaning no dogs.

On two occasions I've asked visitors with dogs on long leads to remove their dog from the area, only to be told quite huffily "This is a service dog and you can't make him leave."

On observing that the woman -- in both cases women -- were not blind and that they weren't really controlling their dogs very well I was told, even more bluntly "He's for my emotional support and comfort."

How the hell did we get to the point in America where one woman's emotional comfort trumps normal public health considerations ... or undistorted court proceedings?

Kirk Parker said...

"There was no way for me to cross-examine the dog"

Clearly Mr. Martin is not a dog owner.

Triangle Man said...

How the hell did we get to the point in America where one woman's emotional comfort trumps normal public health considerations ... or undistorted court proceedings?

You're barking up the wrong tree here. Public health ordinances are unnecessary government intrusions into personal liberty and the free market...according to some.

Triangle Man said...

“There was no way for me to cross-examine the dog,” Mr. Martin said.A dog is distinctly different from a teddy bear, isn't it?

Because he could cross examine a teddy bear?

Note: I didn't actually read the article because I did not want to use one of my 20 precious free article views for this.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ndspinelli said...

It's fair. Maybe Michael Vick should have used a comfort dog @ his trial.

bagoh20 said...

Matlock would have that dog's confession in under 1 hour.

prairie wind said...

They'd have a better chance getting the dog out of the courtroom if it were anything but a sex offender case. In cases where the defendent is seen as a sleazeball, the court can do just about anything they like to get the guy convicted and people think it is justified.

I hope they get the dog kicked out. Well, ushered out, anyway.

Shanna said...

I've had to deal with a somewhat analogous situation at Farmers' Market, which prohibits animals because there is a great deal of food there, some of it in the open and being sampled under Health Department restrictions.

Although that rule makes total sense, tons of people bring their dog to the farmers market here in LR.

madawaskan said...

Ya but his rare climber would be dead and stuffed-so that would be-weird.

madawaskan said...

climber = clumber

crap.

madawaskan said...

Wait how would titus be a witness-more like-

defendant defecator.

traditionalguy said...

The Gangstas will need several pit bulls to feel better when on trial for murdering strangers as an initiation rite.

traditionalguy said...

On second thought a good coon dog pointer would howl and point at the DA as he made his closing arguments.

AllenS said...

Unless the dog gets up, goes over to the defendant, and pisses on his leg, I don't see a problem.

chickenlittle said...

madawaskan said...
Wait how would titus be a witness-more like-defendant defecator.

When I first wrote that comment I wrote "Imagine if Titus were on trial for public defecation..."
I changed it to more accurately compare him to the storyline--that he'd be a "vulnerable witness."

So yes, I agree with you. :)

Rob said...

I yield to no one in my affection for dogs. Perhaps that's why I agree with defense counsel that a dog stacks the deck in favor of the person who has it standing by him or her in court. And that's true whether the person with the dog is a nervous victim or a nervous defendant. Dogs are great, but they have no place in a courtroom to provide emotional support.

madawaskan said...

El Pollo

OK it all makes sense now...which when you consider that we're talking about titus...

Man this day has been nutz.

Fred4Pres said...

I see people bringing dogs into Costco and supermarkets all the time. They are not "service dogs." No one ever challenges them because (presumably) they do not want a confrontation.

I did have a service cat named Jerry. He had his own service cat card and everything. He was gigantic. Just under 30 lbs. He was probably Norwegian Forest. He was extremely gentle and my wife would take him to the local nursing home. One day one of the ladies (who was sadly suffering from dimentia) who used to like the cat did not recognize him. We asked if she wanted to see Jerry the Cat. She replied, "Jerry Katz? I do not care for Jews!"

Fred4Pres said...

I am pretty sure Jerry was non-denominational.

Fred4Pres said...

I can see the rare clumber tilting its head to the side and saying in a low drawn out tone: "Tiiiitus" when ever Titus said something outrageous.

Titus and the rare clumber should be done in stop action claymation.

Synova said...

Maybe there should be screens between the jury and everyone else, so they don't unfairly convict ugly people with whole body tattoos.

The dog probably did influence the jury, but so would a teddy bear, and so does the clothes that a person wears and so does what they look like.

caplight said...

It is clearly the "Lassie Effect," and should have been disallowed by the judge.

Synova said...

I think that the dog is appropriate for a minor. The article did say it was a teenager testifying.

But if some people get dogs or teddy bears then everyone should, according to the same rules.

Casey Anthony could sit there and cuddle a dog all day.

David said...

"A dog is distinctly different from a teddy bear, isn't it?"

Not in the eyes of this idiot judge.

If the witness can not testify without the dog, is the witness competent?

Fred4Pres said...

It is probably not a good idea to bring your pet weasel or rat to court if you are testifying.

MamaM said...

This vulnerable witness is said to have been raped and impregnated by her father.

Where do children find the strength needed to speak their truth against authority figures who exercise power over them and perpetrate harm?

It is unfair to expect a child with immature brain processing and coping mechanisms to stand alone in a courtroom as if they were a mature adult and recount trauma experienced at the hands of an abusive family member present in the room.

I'm thankful Rosie was there to serve as an empathic witness to someone who learned early on that adults empowered to care often don't.

No need to cross examine the dog, because dogs don't lie. If the jury got an eyeful of the devotion, grace, loyalty, faithfulness, and empathy of a dog, so be it. The defense had opportunity to present the same.

CEO-MMP said...

I would suggest to David that, until he's been a teen age rape victim, he should keep his fucking mouth fucking shut.

If a teen age girl feels better with a dog to stroke while having to sit and face her attacker AND a hostile defense attorney (who's more than likely suggesting she wanted and asked for it and enjoyed it, that's what they do)--then what's the problem? How does that make her not competent?

I was very much in love with a girl in her twenties who'd been raped as a teen. Even into her mid and late twenties she was still subject to anxiety attacks when certain things would provoke a memory.

So fuck you, David.

Palladian said...

"I would suggest to David that, until he's been a teen age rape victim, he should keep his fucking mouth fucking shut."

Ahh, the Absolute Moral Authority argument rears its ever-defensive and entitled head again. Don't you DARE try to have a sensible, logical discussion in the face of the sacred victim, you hideous scumbag!

You have no right to any opinion that counters the wishes and whims of the sacred victim! Unless society gets violently raped it has no right imposing any limits on the Absolute Right of the victim to have their way!

If the victim wants to appear in court riding in a giant baby carriage and have Windham Hill music piped into the courtroom during his or her testimony, it must be allowed!

Oligonicella said...

MamaM --

"No need to cross examine the dog, because dogs don't lie."

Oh yeah, they do. Been documented and everything. Both as in, dog wants to deceive, and dog is misread by a human.

Fred4Pres said...

CEO-MMP said...
I would suggest to David that, until he's been a teen age rape victim, he should keep his fucking mouth fucking shut.



Okay. And until you sit falsely accused of rape or child abuse, maybe you should tone the outrage and snark down from to maybe 1 or 2. I know this is difficult to understand for some people, but there is a reason why there is a presumption of innocence. There really are legitimate concerns on why having a witness testify with a living dog might be a bad idea in a criminal case. And I also accept there might be legitimate reasons for it too.

Fred4Pres said...

CEO-MMP, I am sorry about what your former girlfriend went through. That is a terrible thing. But people get falsely accused too. Courts need to balance protecting both alleged victims and the accused. It is a difficult balancing act.

Becareful about channelling too much Nancy Grace.

Fred4Pres said...

Paladian. Agreed, no Windham Hill. It would likely put the jury to sleep.

ken in sc said...

I was recently on a jury of a trial involving a 21 year-old man teaching a three-year old girl how to use a vibrator. It was called lewd act on a minor. The girl was now six years old, the trial being delayed three years by the defense. The girl was terrified of the defendant. She named him by name but refused to look at him, or point him out in the courtroom. This resulted in a mistrial. I was one of the three people who voted 'guilty'. After the trial, I learned that the defendant had a long list of sexually related priors. He had even raped his own sister as a juvenile.

I think if the little girl had a dog or even a teddy bear on the stand, she would have been a better witness.

Mary Beth said...

At least she didn't ask for leniency for her father. Is rape worse than being stripped, burned, shoved in an oven and thrown out into the front yard?

Fred4Pres said...

ken in sc, there is a big difference between a six year old and a teenager. I agree with you in regards to a six year old.

David said...

CEO: It's almost 50 years too late for me to be a teen age rape victim. Sorry I can't meet your standards.

You do have an interesting take on "a jury of one's peers."

Palladian said...

"You do have an interesting take on "a jury of one's peers."

Maybe jurors, lawyers and judges presiding over certain trials should be forced to endure the acts allegedly perpetrated against the crime victims. So for rape trials, everyone in the court will be required to be raped, for abuse trials, everyone would be subject to systematic abuse for a period of time before trial, and for murder trials, everyone present will be killed, bringing a new meaning to the term "hung jury".

Shanna said...

The dog probably did influence the jury, but so would a teddy bear, and so does the clothes that a person wears and so does what they look like.

I would think the fact of a child young enough to need a teddy bear/dog testifying would be enough to prejudice the jury, if they were able to be swayed by such things. I would think a child over a certain age, say 5 or 6, should be able to take the stand without something like that.

We aren't talking about a teenager, are we?

Revenant said...

You're barking up the wrong tree here. Public health ordinances are unnecessary government intrusions into personal liberty and the free market...according to some.

In your rush to sneer you neglected to make any sense.

Even if somebody here held the straw man opinion you've described, why would he or she be OK with the government forcing business owners to allow dogs in the market?

Revenant said...

I would suggest to David that, until he's been a teen age rape victim, he should keep his fucking mouth fucking shut.

And the reason any of us should care about your opinion is...?

Congratulations. You're angry and anonymous on the Internet. Go nuts.

Methadras said...

People are slapping therapy dog vests on their dogs and this allows them to take their dogs anywhere. I'm a dog lover and I have zero issues with dogs being anywhere, but come on. In a courtroom now too? The public defender is being an idiot when he says that he can't cross examine the dog. Well duh. The dog can't talk, retard and he probably wasn't at the scene of the crime either. He's there to help comfort the victim to help her get through her testimony that is traumatic. If that's what it takes to get to the truth, then I'm not seeing an issue.

Fred4Pres said...

We aren't talking about a teenager, are we?

Yes Shanna, we are.

Of course, adults have animal friends too.

Oligonicella said...

Methadras --

"The public defender is being an idiot when he says that he can't cross examine the dog. Well duh. The dog can't talk, retard and he probably wasn't at the scene of the crime either."

I believe the point is he can't ask the dog why it approached the kid. Might have just been a "Hey, pet my nose" where the jury would probably assume it's "Oh, you're stressed".

Just because it's a comfort dog doesn't mean everything it does is motivated by comfort training.

Fred4Pres said...

We can allow witnesses to speak through a ventriloquist doll too.

William said...

A little girl, hugging a puppy, confronting the man who allegedly raped her. I can see where this would be prejudicial to the defense. There's a good chance it might inspire a lynch mob right there in the courtroom.....Why do children have to testify in open court? Can't they make their videotaped deposition in a closed room. Let the lawyers argue about the editing. I would favor a defense motion to edit out the puppy. I would favor a prosecution motion to let the child cuddle her dog. Just video the girl's face. I can easily see where the courtroom drama and glare would be more traumatic than rape for a child. The sensibilities of a child should have some priority in a case like this.

Shanna said...

Yes Shanna, we are.

Oh. Well, that seems a bit unnecessary.

Why do children have to testify in open court? Can't they make their videotaped deposition in a closed room.

This makes sense to me, especially with particularly young children (I do not consider a teenager to be especially young, maybe we should draw the line at age of consent, whatever that is - 14-16?). I'm not sure where right to confront your accuser comes in.

Fred4Pres said...

Sorry Shanna. Too much snark.

galdosiana said...

If they allow a dog, would they allow a miniature pony or a pot-bellied pig? THAT is a trial I'd like to see.

AST said...

Are they claiming that the dog was giving testimony? Outrageous objections are the sign of the absence of a defense.

It's gorilla dust.

Revenant said...

He's there to help comfort the victim to help her get through her testimony that is traumatic. If that's what it takes to get to the truth, then I'm not seeing an issue.

The problem is that it only makes sense to allow the dog if the woman was raped. "Was this woman raped" is one of the questions the jury is being asked to *answer*.

Letting the dog in says "so far as this court's concerned this woman was raped, so all you need to do is decide if this particular guy is the guy who did it".

MamaM said...


"No need to cross examine the dog, because dogs don't lie."

Oh yeah, they do. Been documented and everything. Both as in, dog wants to deceive, and dog is misread by a human.


Maybe I've been lucky. All the lying dogs I've met have been human.

Fred4Pres said...

Is a pissed off chimp allowed in court? Because I hear they can be rather curt.

Drew Cloutier said...

As Denver's owner demonstrates, dogs can be cross-examined effectively:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ISzf2pryI