Courthouse Dogs Calm Testifying Juveniles

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“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.” ― Dean Koontz, False Memory

Several programs exist across the country in which prosecutors and defense counsel use professionally trained dogs to help ease the anxiety juveniles experience while being interviewed or testifying in court.  Oftentimes, juveniles must discuss details of physical or emotional abuse, and having an affectionate, yet unobtrusive dog nearby helps ease the stress.  Research has shown that within as little as five minutes of petting or interacting with a dog, a person’s heart rate and blood pressure lowers; breathing becomes more regular; muscle tension is reduced; and speech, memory, and mental functions increase.  The physiological changes juveniles experience when courtroom dogs are around aid their ability to testify, which is extremely important because juveniles’ testimony needs to be as articulate and complete as possible.  In her article, Court Facility Dogs—Easing the Apprehensive Witness, Colorado attorney Gabriela Sandoval states, “The more at ease a child feels, the more effective his or her testimony will be.  Articulate testimony will assist in obtaining evidence that can either convict or exonerate the defendant.  When the child witness is comfortable, emotions may not obstruct or slow down important testimony.”

The Courthouse Dogs Foundation was founded with the mission “to promote justice with compassion through the use of professionally trained facility dogs to provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system.”  Their website, courthousedogs.com, recounts the positive outcome from a trial in which a testifying juvenile was allowed to be accompanied by a facility dog:

In September of 2012, in Snohomish County, WA, Mary Mazalic was brought to trial for starving, beating, and burning a ten-year-old girl.  Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Paul filed a motion in limine to ask the court’s permission to allow facility dog Stilson to sit at the feet of this child victim while she testified in court.  Her brief included an affidavit from victim advocate Heidi Potter, Stilson’s handler, documenting how Stilson provided comfort to this child during the investigative phase of these crimes.  The judge found that this child suffered emotional trauma from these events. 
 The defense did not object to the presence of Stilson with the agreement that he would be concealed by the witness box and the jury would not be aware of his presence.
  While in the witness box, Stilson remained calm and out of sight during the lengthy direct and cross-examination.  He did not even move when defense counsel spilled a glass of water into the witness box and several people moved to this area to clean up the water.

The defendant was convicted as charged.

After the trial, jurors stated they did not know that a dog was in the courtroom.  Stilson, the invisible dog, was bred, raised, and trained by Canine Companions for Independence.  His behavior exemplifies the high level of training of a facility dog.

This is only one of numerous success stories of facility dogs assisting in criminal, juvenile, and drug courts.  Additionally, these dogs visit juveniles in detention facilities and are a friendly presence during their recovery process.  Currently, there are courthouse dogs working in twenty-one states:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The unconditional love and support the courthouse dogs offer juveniles make them a positive counterbalance to the often overwhelming and stressful setting of the courts.  The placement of dogs in the courthouse is a wonderful program, which hopefully, will continue to grow and be implemented in more courts throughout the country.

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Above Photo:  Courthouse dog Russell, trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, works at the Southern Arizona Child Advocacy Center with Director Kathy Rau.  Photo courtesy Courthouse Dogs Foundation.

Intro Photo:  Molly B at the King County Courthouse. Molly B was bred and trained by Canine Companions for Independence.  Photo courtesy Courthouse Dogs Foundation and the Seattle Police Department.

For more information regarding the Courthouse Dogs Foundation or for starting a program for the use of courthouse dogs, visit courthousedogs.com.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

photo courtesy of: http://media.newindianexpress.com/09india.jpg/2013/05/10/article1582625.ece/alternates/w460/09india.jpg

17-Year Old Tried As Juvenile After Killing Ref Over Call, Could Serve Less Than 4 Years, cbs.com

A teenager charged with killing a Utah soccer referee because he didn’t like the man’s call during a game pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of homicide by assault in a case that brought new attention to the issue of violence and sportsmanship in athletics.

A judge sentenced the teenager to juvenile prison, leaving how much time he’ll spend there to a juvenile parole board. The maximum would be just more than three years until he turns 21, but the parole board has the authority to let him out sooner, said Patricia Cassell, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney.

Police say the teenager punched 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo once in the head on April 27 after the referee called a foul on him. Portillo died after a weeklong coma, leaving behind three daughters.

Two of Portillo’s daughters spoke in court Monday, telling the teenager that taking their father away has destroyed the family.

“I don’t think you’ll ever understand how much pain and suffering you made us go through,” said Ana Portillo, 21, looking at the teenager. “We just wish you had taken a deep breath before you did what you did. You have to change.”

He told the judge he aims to get his high school degree and study chemical engineering in college.  He then looked straight at Portillo’s daughters, seated in the front row, and told them he knows how much pain he has caused them.

Hornak noted the teen is a good student — taking Advanced Placement classes — with no previous criminal record. But she also underscored the seriousness of the crime and said she was most troubled that he acted so violently toward a person that did nothing to provoke him.

City gives juvenile offenders a second chance, thisweeknews.com

New Albany has launched a diversion program for first-time juvenile traffic offenders that would void the charge and keep it from being filed with a court.

Amy Boyd, New Albany’s probation officer, said the diversion program is open to drivers ages 15 to 17 who have been stopped for a minor traffic offense, such as speeding, violating temporary driving permit rules, assured clear distance ahead, failure to obey a traffic signal or failure to obey at a stop sign.

The program is for first offenses only, Boyd said, and no accident or other major traffic violation can have occurred during the incident.

A New Albany police officer who stops a juvenile driver can file the ticket with Franklin County Municipal Court or offer the offender the diversion program.

If offered the program, the juvenile driver has five days from the date of the traffic stop to contact Boyd and request admission to the program.

New Albany spokesman Scott McAfee said the program takes one to six months to complete.

Boyd said it is personalized to each offender and includes community service, a curfew, an essay and other components.

Life in India’s Juvenile Homes, newyorktimes.com

On Magazine Road, near the Delhi University campus, a seedy, expansive complex with high, pale yellow walls, which served as a warehouse for arms and ammunition during the British rule, houses three of the six correctional facilities for juvenile offenders run by the Delhi government. Its most notorious inmate is the youngest defendant on trial for the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi.

The juvenile home in north Delhi lodges offenders who are 16 years and older–including those undergoing trials as well as those convicted of their crimes. Last week, 20 juveniles resided across the three facilities. Separate facilities in Delhi house inmates below 14 years and those 14 to 16 years old.

Private security guards and juvenile home staff kept a watchful eye on the inmates at all times, he said, although the closed circuit cameras installed in the complex didn’t work. “The children broke the cameras,” Mr. Dhaneria said.

Despite the facility having a budgetary allocation of almost 4 million rupees, or $66,000, for the current financial year, Mr. Dhaneria said that he was waiting for the Delhi government department overseeing his facility to approve a request to purchase new cameras and computers.

 

 

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juveniles in Indian-controlled Kashmir denied justice, PressTV

In a stark revelation on the grim human rights scenario in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a fact finding report by New Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights has termed the situation of juveniles in Kashmir as the worst in India.

The report, which happens to be the first ever documentation on juvenile justice situation in India’s conflict-ridden areas, states that minors in Kashmir continue to be illegally detained under Public Safety Act (PSA) that provides for up to two years of preventive detention.

In absence of juvenile facilities for minor boys and girls, a brazen violation of 1997 J&K Juvenile Justice Act, minors are locked up in prisons with adults.

The report has documented six cases in which the minors have been detained in violation of Juvenile Justice Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Criminal justice reference site a worthwhile stop, Wisconsin Law Journal

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service “is a federally funded resource offering justice and drug-related information to support research, policy, and program development worldwide.”

The website includes a wide variety of publications, library abstracts, topical summaries, and a list of related links/websites.

To browse the site’s various topics, the researcher can select the “A-Z topics” link. Choosing an area of interest will produce a list of questions and answers specific to that topic. The webpage will also include links to relevant free and fee based publications. As an added service, the webpage includes a “Find in a library link” providing possible alternative methods for obtaining the article.

The researcher may also choose one of the broader subject-based menu options, including corrections, courts, crime, crime prevention, drugs, justice system, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and victims. From there, the user can conduct a keyword search or review the various subcategories to locate information.

The website contains a wealth of data and general information related to the various areas of criminal justice and is a worthwhile stop when conducting this type of research. If the material is of particular interest, users can also register to receive various newsletters and notifications.