Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 411, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), which provides statutory authorization for the use of therapy and facility dogs during the testimony of specified victims and child witnesses.
“Research has shown us that these therapy and facility dogs provide a compassionate way to help comfort victims during their testimony,” said Bloom. “Because of the positive effects that have been seen in courtrooms across the country, more participants in law enforcement and the judicial system are recognizing its importance and positive impact.”
Therapy and facility dogs provide both a physical benefit and emotional benefit to vulnerable victims, resulting in more accurate testimony in the judicial system. A therapy and facility dog specializes in assisting individuals with physical, psychological, or emotional trauma caused by criminal conduct. There are several states, including California, which have case laws upholding the use of these dogs. In California, People v. Spence upheld the trial court’s allowance of a therapy dog to accompany a 10-year-old child victim of molestation to the witness stand, and in People v. Chenault, upheld the trial court’s allowance of a therapy dog to accompany 11 and 13-year-old girls when they testified.
Current practice in courtrooms across California includes the use of therapy and facility dogs; however, there are no statutory rules governing this practice. Due to the lack of statutory guidance over the use of therapy and facility dogs, it is up to the presiding judge of each court to determine whether or not a dog will be permitted in the court house. As a result, in the absence of a state law, child witnesses and victims throughout the state have been denied their right to use therapy and facility dogs when providing testimony.
“Victims’ rights attorneys, advocates and activists have fought to ensure that no matter where a child resides in California, they will have access to the use of therapy and facility dogs during testimony. Today, the State of California enshrined that right in statue,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom.