Aug 11, 2011 – 9:33 AM ET
.Would this dog lie under oath?
Publish a story about an abused kid and the newspaper will get seven indignant letters to the editor. Publish a story about an abused dog and a hundred letters will flood in. Not all people love dogs, but those who do love dogs often react to them with more sympathy than they feel for human beings.
The extent to which a sweet-natured dog can influence people’s reasoning sits at the heart of a Poughkeepsie, New York court case dealing with that most emotive subject of all, the abuse of a child by her father.
In June Victor Tohom was brought to trial for the rape of his teenage daughter, which resulted in pregnancy. The judge ruled that because the daughter felt intimidated by her father’s presence as she was testifying, she was entitled to the support of a therapy dog – in this case a golden retriever named Rosie – who, sitting beside her, and nuzzling her at moments of stress, would act as a kind of living teddy bear.
(Teddy bears have been admissible as comfort props for child witnesses since 1994. Service dogs, such as guide dogs for the blind, have long been a feature of court proceedings as well, and arouse no controversy. But service dogs perform no function beyond allowing their owner to function physically in the unfamiliar environment.)
This was not the first time a dog had performed a comfort and de-stressing function in court. In 2003 the precedent was set when a dog named Jeeter accompanied a plaintiff in a Seattle sexual-assault case. In the case of Rosie, who has a long history of working with emotionally disturbed children, her presence was acknowledged to be of help in boosting the confidence of the witness. When the girl hesitated in her testimony, the dog cuddled up to her and nudged her, and she then proceeded with more resolve.
The girl’s father was convicted by the jury and sentenced to 25 years to life. Tohom’s public defenders blamed the conviction on the dog. “Every time [the witness] stroked the dog,” said one, “it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth.” He added, “There was no way for me to cross-examine the dog.”
Even those who promote the practice of comfort dogs admit that the dog’s presence is an aid to the person using it. The Seattle prosecutor whose plaintiff benefited, said “Sometimes the dog makes the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.”
If that is true, then is it fair to allow young or nervous female witnesses to use them and to deny them to the presumably confident males on trial, as has so far been the case? Apart from psychopaths, who are strangers to human emotion, anyone on trial, guilty or innocent, is nervous and stressed awaiting the roll of the dice that will decide their fate.
It goes without saying that our human impulse will naturally be to offer the more vulnerable courtroom adversary a helping hand. But if that helping hand can actually trump evidence in the jury’s decision-making process, then we are opening a Pandora’s box by arbitrarily assigning that aid to one party, but not the other. In the case of the teenage girl, it seems obvious that she was more in need of comfort in giving testimony than the accused. But in the future, wouldn’t any canny defendant seize on the pretext that he or she is too nervous to testify without such a de-stressor? And who is to judge the level of stress at which point the dog’s presence is a “right”?
The whole point of a trial is to bypass the emotions and to base one’s judgment of who is guilty and who is not on the basis of evidence alone. Emotional justice and legal justice do sometimes coincide, but not always. As inhumane as it seems, I think most dogs should stick to sniffing out evidence, not deflecting people’s attention from it, while the Rosies of the world should stick to doing therapy with disturbed children, where their invaluable services can do only good and no harm to a sacred principle.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Thanks again to Barbara Kay for writing about the substantive issues in
Fact is, courts are increasingly turned into a circus, "victims" frequently have ulterior and very obvious motivations, generally connected with a child custody or money, money as a victim, money in the form the various forms that society rewards victims.
Obviously not all alleged victims are victims, all too frequently, we learn that the real victim was the accused.
"Victim" witnesses are increasingly coached on what to say. Across north america you can hear almost identical phrases coming out of their mouths in order to gain the maximum effect. Anyone would think that it was an acting school with points being awarded. Fact is all too often getting a guilty conviction can be a financial windfall akin to winning a lottery.
Victims get told to wear "pink blouses", padded bras, clothes hair and make up all designed for a hollywood performance.
Allowing a "puppy" into the court room for these dubious victims can only add to the injustice and the false convictions.
Across Ontario, there is now a "Male Sharia Law" applied in criminal law. A woman can make an allegation and even a "she said" against several solid witnesses for "he said" can and does often result in a conviction.
That forces men to take a plea bargain when they were not and are not guilty, it distorts and corrupts the administration of justice, brings justice into ill-repute and, encourages women to make false allegations.
It also allows extreme feminist groups to claim ever increasing statistics that have resemblance to reality.
Its enough to make you want to puke.
The only solution, a Legal Presumption of Equal Parenting and an end to Male Sharia Law in Canada.