Does Rosie, the courtroom dog, sway Jurors to Convict? Dog Lovers & Victims Advocates, What Say You?

Yes, a dog is now an appealable issue. And, dogs, apparently, according to the defense, can tell when someone is telling the truth.

Just ask Rosie, a golden retriever therapy dog, who sat in the witness-box with a 15-year-old girl as she testified against her father in a rape case in New York.  It seems Rosie would nudge and lean into the victim when she was having difficulty testifying. Every time the victim was under stress, the defense alleges, she would stroke Rosie and “it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth”. And, that, the defense argues sways the jury to convict and appears to violate the defendants constitutional rights including the right to a fair trial and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

Does a dog know when someone is telling the truth? I love dogs, but I think that’s a stretch.

Isn’t Rosie just a testifying aid? The prosecution argued that Rosie is simply an aid and comfort to otherwise reluctant witnesses, especially in child cases where without the victims testimony, conviction is problematic. At trial, the defense objected. The judge overruled. Relying upon a 1994 NY Appeals Court decision allowing victims to hold teddy bears, Rosie, he reasoned, was akin to a teddy bear. Rosie stays.The jury convicted the defendant and he was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Could I have used the same argument when I tried cases against an opposing counsel who was pregnant, disabled or, my favorite, had a bible on counsel’s table? Maybe an unfair comparison, but, initially, I didn’t feel that sympathy or the “sway” was in my court either.

How is a dog leaning or nudging any different from the facial expressions of the victim’s mother or brother? Or, even the head nodding of counsel, for instance? Does that sway a jury? It didn’t in the Casey Anthony trial. It didn’t in the OJ Simpson trial.

Having prosecuted many child abuse and domestic violence cases, I know first hand the fear, stress, and discomfort, that many children and even adults face when testifying. So, what harm is a dog, really, comforting the victim?

Yet, when it comes to constitutional rights and the right to a fair trial, it is a big deal.

Or, does it matter that without testifying aids like a teddy bear, a blanket, a victim advocate or even Rosie, victims may be unable to testify, “silenced” if you will, and alleged molesters and batterers may walk in some cases. Many defendants would plead guilty, in my cases, once the victim took the stand or when they learned the victim would testify. How do we decide?

Isn’t the remedy a jury instruction? For instance, the judge could instruct the jury to “not consider any testifying aids whether they be a teddy bear, a dog or a victim advocate, or any of their gestures or appearances thereto and your decision is to be based solely on the evidence and law presented…”

Can the defense keep future dogs like Rosie off the stand? Not likely.  Other states including Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa already allow courtroom dogs and this defendant has an appeal that is an uphill battle. Essentially, they would have to prove that Rosie’s “gestures” were a factor, an important factor, in the jurors decision to convict in light of all the evidence presented. How can they prove that Rosie sends “an unconscious message of truth” to the jurors? Aren’t they asking the NY Court of Appeals to speculate or to employ their “psychic” powers?

Really, can dogs tell when someone is lying or telling the truth?

Is a dog a testifying aid or do they sway a jury to convict, WHAT SAY YOU?


2 Comments on “Does Rosie, the courtroom dog, sway Jurors to Convict? Dog Lovers & Victims Advocates, What Say You?”

  1. Jill Estensen says:

    Yes, dogs can tell when someone is in pain, about to have a seizure, hiding drugs or perhaps lying. Has Rosie been USED to sit with the rapist, murderer or robber? I’ll bet Rosie would lean into them just as well as she does with the victims of those crimes. Dogs, unless they’ve been trained otherwise don’t judge, they are unconditional by nature. My question is how was Rosie trained?

    • Not much info about Rosie’s training other than trained to work with traumatized victims. I wonder what impact she would have on defendants.
      Let’s hope Rosie can continue to provide solace and comfort to abused children and other victims.

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