Therapy Dog Helps Teen Rape Victim Get Conviction

But appeal questions whether canines in court sway jury
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2011 1:20 PM CDT
Should Dogs Be Allowed to Help Witnesses Testify?
A golden retriever ... who is not Rosie.   (AP Photo/David C. Scott)

A man convicted of raping his teenage daughter is filing an appeal that centers around a dog named Rosie—and its outcome could have have repercussions for courtrooms and victims across the country. The New York Times reports on the unusual case: The traumatized 15-year-old girl testified about the rape and ensuing pregnancy with the golden retriever by her side. Trained therapy dogs have been permitted in the courtroom in a handful of states since 2003, but Rosie's appearance was a first for New York. And Victor Tohom's lawyers aren't happy about it.

They argue that therapy dogs can unfairly sway juries, and can help calm stressed people as they testify—about a painful experience, or as they try to tell a convincing lie. "Every time she stroked the dog it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth," says one of Tohom's lawyers, who argued Rosie "infected the trial with unfairness" to the point that it violated Tohom's constitutional rights (though so as not to appear anti-dog, they also noted that Tohom wishes Rosie "only the best"). Proponents say dogs can provide much-needed comfort to vulnerable witnesses, particularly children. (More dogs stories.)

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