Therapy Dog Is Cute, but Sends Jurors Wrong Message, Defense Lawyers Say

No one denies that Rosie, a New York therapy dog who works with witnesses in criminal cases, is very cute. However the defense lawyers of a man convicted of raping his daughter claim that the golden retriever’s cuteness swayed a jury too much.

During trial, the New York Times reports, the dog sat in the witness box and nuzzled the 15-year-old girl testifying. The witness told the jury that her father raped and impregnated her.

The judge in the Dutchess County Court trial overruled defense objections to the dog, on the basis that she was similar to a teddy bear. At least once during the witness’ testimony, the New York Times reports, Rosie seemed to nudge her gently.

Recently courts in Arizona, Hawaii, Indiana and Idaho allowed therapy dogs to sit with witnesses, many of whom are children. In the New York case, defense lawyers say that while the dog is trained to comfort people under stress, jurors conclude the animal helps the witness tell the truth.

“Every time she stroked the dog,” defense lawyer David S. Martin told the New York Times, “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.

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