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Canine companions within the courtroom: Canine in court docket could quickly develop into widespread follow


Astro the power canine ​​quietly offering consolation throughout witness testimony. Photograph courtesy of Courthouse Canine Basis.

Story Produced by NH Bar Information, a member of


Testifying in court docket is an unfamiliar course of for most individuals and may be fairly disturbing, particularly for a kid. Having to recall traumatic occasions throughout that testimony can exponentially amplify that stress, generally inflicting the phenomenon referred to as re-traumatization. Within the final 17 years, courts and youngster advocacy facilities throughout the US have began to acknowledge the advantages of assist that may be offered to kids by educated facility canine.

At present, 26 states have developed packages the place judicial methods companion with facility canine to assist crime victims. 16 of these states have legal guidelines that permit the usage of man’s greatest pal in authorized proceedings, eight of which have laws allowing their use to help witnesses giving testimony in court docket.

New Hampshire doesn’t presently have any legal guidelines relating to the utilization of canines within the courtroom and the discussions have been tabled as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, a nationwide invoice, the Courtroom Canine Act, was not too long ago handed within the Senate. The invoice, launched by US Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), clarifies federal judges’ authority to permit licensed facility canine in courtrooms throughout authorized proceedings and would require the Division of Justice to subject tips for constant follow when utilizing them in court docket.

Facility canine are help canine, like information canine or emotional assist canine, which are particularly educated to work alongside professionals to help others, equivalent to youngster victims.

Based on the Courthouse Canine Basis, “a facility canine ​​ought to be a graduate from a nonprofit help canine college which is accredited by Help Canine Worldwide.” They usually obtain round two years of coaching earlier than being positioned with an expert handler. They will additionally work with a number of handlers, on or off leash, which supplies much-needed flexibility when current in personal forensic interviews, medical exams, and courtroom hearings.

Their coaching contains obedience and resilience to emphasize, in order to not be disruptive or distracted by unusual noises whereas performing their duties. They don’t seem to be protecting, they usually lack the prey drive of some breeds generally distracted by fast-moving curiosities like squirrels or cats.

When being positioned to work within the authorized system, facility canine endure extra screening to make sure they’re affectionate and comfy having shut bodily contact with kids. The canine shouldn’t be distressed by a toddler’s sudden pull of its tail or unwitting finger in its ear.

Along with the courthouse, they work in youngster advocacy facilities and metropolis or county legal professional places of work. Their handlers are professionals who work within the authorized system as a result of confidential nature of sure proceedings. When not at work, a facility canine ​​is a loving pet to one in all their major handlers.

Courthouse Canine Basis, a non-profit group based in 2012 by former Seattle prosecutor Ellen O’Neill Stephens, is probably the largest proponent of the position and utilization of facility canine. They’ve helped a number of states with drafting laws and imagine that pooches within the courtroom ought to be a mainstream follow.

In 2003, throughout her tenure as a prosecutor, O’Neill-Stephens introduced her son’s service pup, Jeeter, to accompany twin 7-year-old sexual assault victims into King County Superior Courtroom in Seattle to consolation them throughout testimony towards their abusive father . The subsequent 12 months, she labored with Canine Companions for Independence to develop into the primary help canine group on the planet to position a educated facility canine, Ellie, to work in a prosecutor’s workplace.

“When underneath a number of stress, direct and cross-examination could make a toddler re-experience their trauma,” O’Neill-Stephens stated. “The utilization of facility canine helps fight that and enhances the fact-finding course of.”

Celeste Walsen, Govt Director of Courthouse Canine Basis and veterinarian, helps this assertion, saying that “having a canine makes all of the distinction on the planet in holding witnesses in the precise mind set to present significant testimony.”

Walsen, who additionally holds a BA in Psychology from the College of California Berkeley, says that canine impression the neurophysiology of people. “To a susceptible particular person equivalent to a toddler, the presence of law enforcement officials, attorneys, jurors, and an individual in a giant black gown trying down on them may be very scary,” Walsen stated. “And after we are struck with concern or nervousness, one of many first stuff you lose is the power to speak. However the calming impact of a canine will help elevate oxytocin and decrease cortisol ranges, affecting the neurotransmitters within the mind, to permit the witness to maintain speaking. This limits re-traumatization and will get the very best proof.”

Based on Walsen and O’Neill-Stephens, the very best breeds for facility canine are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, or a mix thereof.

Regardless of the dearth of legal guidelines in NH, there may be one prosecutor’s workplace within the state that often makes use of a facility canine: Carroll County Lawyer’s Workplace.

“The expertise has been actually useful,” County Lawyer Michaela Andruzzi stated. “It provides them one thing to concentrate on as an alternative of getting to look me within the face.”

Westin, the Carroll County facility canine, is primarily situated on the Little one Advocacy Middle of Carroll County. His handler of him (AKA “Westin’s Mother”), Govt Director Elizabeth Kelley-Scott, stated he greets households as they arrive into the middle and helps calm the anxieties of each the mother and father and the youngsters. He was educated in 2013 by Help Canine Coaching Companies and is about to retire quickly.

“Westin is price his weight in gold,” Kelley-Scott stated. Recalling an occasion the place Westin helped a toddler sufferer with consideration deficit and oppositional defiant issues speak in confidence to her in a forensic interview, she recounted, “I did not assume he would speak to me, however we ended up speaking for half-hour.”

Harmony Metropolis Prosecutor Tracy Connolly has been concerned in a number of circumstances the place a sufferer would carry a canine for consolation, however not whereas testifying. “If it helps a sufferer get by way of their testimony, I am all for it,” she maintained.

In-Article Photograph 02: Westin the Carroll County facility canine ​​hanging a pose in entrance of his office. Photograph courtesy of The Little one Advocacy Middle of Carroll County.

Amanda Grady-Sexton, Director of Public Affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Towards Home and Sexual Violence stated she feels that the imbalance of the pursuits of crime victims towards the rights of the accused in New Hampshire’s justice system frequently leads to re-traumatization. She stated that “if the objective of a legal trial is to hunt fact and decide the accused’s innocence or guilt, the New Hampshire legislature ought to assist evidence-based efforts that assist victims and witnesses present clear and coherent testimony, together with the usage of a discreet service animal within the courtroom.”

Conversely, some legal protection attorneys have considerations with a canine presence within the witness stand.

“I might be involved that it may bolster the credibility of the witness and render them sympathetic to the jury,” Lawyer George “Skip” Campbell stated. “I might don’t have any drawback with the usage of one throughout recess when the jury cannot see them, although.”

Lawyer Sandra Bloomenthal expressed comparable considerations saying, “I am a canine lover, however I really feel that the jury seeing a canine within the witness field could elicit unwarranted sympathy.”

Apparently, Lawyer Ted Lothstein has a distinct tackle it. He has had direct expertise with the utilization of man’s greatest pal in court docket when he represented a defendant in a home violence case. He stated the plaintiff, with no obvious psychological or bodily disabilities, introduced an enormous hound together with her into the courtroom and neither her nor the prosecution gave any clarification.

“The jury present in favor of the defendant,” Lothstein indicated. “It was just like the proverbial elephant within the room, however on this case, it was a really massive canine. The dearth of clarification was damaging to the prosecution’s case.”

Some protection attorneys in different states have included objections to facility canine of their appeals, however to no avail.

Within the Pennsylvania Supreme Courtroom case, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sheron Jalen Purnellthe Courtroom opined, “there may be nothing within the document to recommend that the consolation canine was in any means disruptive to the trial.”

Likewise, in Andre Montez-Jones v. Georgia, Jones asserted that the path court docket erred in permitting a facility canine ​​to accompany one of many plaintiffs, that it prejudiced his protection by producing sympathy within the jury. The Georgia Courtroom of Appeals answered this by saying, “given the procedures the trial court docket adopted to reduce the canine’s presence, we can’t assume that the canine had any impression on the jurors, a lot much less that it engendered sympathy in them.”

To attenuate potential prejudice towards defendants, the Courthouse Canine Basis recommends that 1. facility canine be introduced out and in of the courtroom whereas the jury isn’t current and that the canine stay out of sight underneath the witness field, 2. the decide inform the jury of the canine’s presence however to convey that it in is not any solution to be interpreted as reflecting on the truthfulness of the testimony, and three. the canine be made obtainable to witnesses on each side.

It’s unclear if or when the Courtroom Canine Act will move, or if NH will move a regulation any time quickly surrounding the utilization of facility canine, however something is paws-ible.


These articles are being shared by companions in The Granite State Information Collaborative. For extra info go to collaborativenh.org.

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