St. Louis courtrooms have introduced some furry friends to help lower stress levels and aid witnesses during the trial process. Therapy dogs have been present in hospitals and nursing homes for many years because of the documented benefits in lowering blood pressure and reducing stress reactions, and now those benefits are being put to use in local courts all over Missouri.
The therapy dogs are most often employed in a case where a child witness is being called. Children often have a hard time speaking in front of a large group and are often scared and nervous to be a part of the trial. Having the dog as a calming presence is particularly important for children who have been victims of crimes, said a victim's advocate for the local court.
During the trial stage of the criminal justice process, witness testimony is one of the most important and persuasive elements of evidence. Accurate witness testimony is crucial to insuring justice for the person who is accused of the crimes as well as the victim. Inaccurate or confusing testimony can make it hard for the jury to identify the facts and could lead to a wrongful conviction.
Although the use of therapy dogs has drawn criticism in other parts of the country, the program has not received any complaints in Missouri. Judges and attorneys have yet to make any significant objections to therapy dogs for child witnesses. The dogs are carefully selected and are often owned by employees of the court. They must be docile and well disciplined so as not to pose any safety hazards.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Court therapy dog eases crime victim's stress at courthouse in Clayton," Nancy Cambria, May 29, 2012.