Friday, November 1, 2013

Law on Facility Dogs as Aids to Vulnerable Witnesses Continues to Develop

An adult man, Douglas, is retarded but able to hold down a job.  He meets the girl next door, Alesha Lair, who soon moves in with him, and moves in three members of her family as well.  Alesha begins to drain Douglas’s bank accounts and max out his credit cards on presents for her family and friends, including another boyfriend, Timothy Dye.  She sets up an apartment using more of Douglas’s money, then moves out.  But she hadn’t taken everything, so Timothy comes back to get what’s left from Douglas.  He enters the house when Douglas is there and takes things despite Douglas’s protests.  The next day, when Douglas is at work, Dye again returns and takes everything left of any value, leaving the door open as he leaves.  Finally the law gets involved.  Alesha pleads guilty to theft in the first degree with the aggravating circumstance that Douglas is a vulnerable victim.  Timothy Dye fights the charge and is prosecuted.

Douglas has trouble facing Timothy in court and asks to be able to come to the witness stand with a “facility dog” named Ellie. The trial court allows it.  A Washington State Appellate court affirms.  Now the Supreme Court of the State of Washington has also affirmed, making this one of the most important cases in this developing area of the law.   

To know more, read the article below on the website of the Animal Legal and Historical Center of Michigan State University.  Use of facility dogs is an important trend, but I fear that some courts are not being careful to limit the prejudice that might be involved.  I have no sympathy for people like Alesha Lair and Timothy Dye—the facts speak for themselves—but courts should attempt to limit the impact of the presence of the dog as much as possible.  The innocence of the dog must not become proof of the victim’s honesty.  The dog is a way to let the victim to tell his side of the story in a setting that is, for many victims, terrifying, but the dog should not by its mere presence establish that what the victim says is true.  Certain precautions to limit the impact the presence of the animal might have should be considered by courts in these cases.

Recent Cases on the Use of Facility Dogs by Witnesses While Testifying (originally written in 2012 and updated periodically since then). 

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