CSAO: Children Committee - February 21, 2017 - H.B. No. 6999

TESTIMONY OF THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

IN OPPOSITION TO:

H.B. No. 6999 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING THE USE OF THERAPY DOGS TO COMFORT CHILDREN TESTIFYING IN CERTAIN CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS

JOINT COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN
February 21, 2017

The Division of Criminal Justice respectfully requests the Committee take NO ACTION on H.B. No. 6999, An Act Concerning the Use of Therapy Dogs to Comfort Children Testifying in Certain Criminal Prosecutions. This legislation is not necessary and as currently written could impose an unneeded and potentially unwise mandate on the courts.

Trial courts already possess the inherent authority to make special accommodations, including allowing the presence of a therapy dog where appropriate. See State v. Devon D., 321 Conn. 656, 686 (2016), which involved an 8-year-old witness where the jury’s view of the dog was completely obscured and no mention was made of a dog handler being in the picture. To quote from the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court:

"We conclude that the trial court may exercise its discretion to permit a dog to provide comfort and support to a testifying witness. Before doing so, the court must balance the extent to which the accommodation will help the witness to testify reliably and completely against any possible prejudice to the defendant's right to a fair trial. The trial court should consider the particular facts and circumstances for the request to have a dog accompany the particular witness, the extent to which the dog's presence will permit the witness to testify truthfully, completely and reliably, and the extent to which the dog's presence will obviate the need for more drastic measures to secure the witness' testimony. The trial court should balance these factors against the potential prejudice to the defendant and the availability of measures to mitigate any prejudice, such as limiting instructions and procedures to limit the jury's view of the dog."

State v. Devon D., 321 Conn. 656, 686 (2016)

Special witness accommodations raise due process concerns that will vary from case to case and may be overlooked if a court believes it may act simply on the basis of a statutory grant of authority. The Division of Criminal Justice believes it is better to leave this sort of very specific accommodation to the common law, where it has already been addressed and addressed adequately by the highest court of this state.

Should the Committee proceed with this legislation, the Division would recommend in the strongest of terms that the bill be amended to eliminate the current mandate for the presence of a therapy dog, i.e., that the word "shall" in line 48 be changed to "may." This change is essential to prevent trial courts from granting requests for the presence of a therapy dog purely as a statutory directive without carefully undertaking the due process balancing mandated by our Supreme Court in Devon D., the criteria for which are not addressed in the bill.

In conclusion, the Division of Criminal Justice respectfully recommends the Committee take NO ACTION on H.B. No. 6999, or, if the Committee decides to advance the bill that it receive a JOINT FAVORABLE SUBSTITUTE report to eliminate the mandatory nature of the bill. We thank the Committee for providing this opportunity to provide input on this bill and we would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.



Content Last Modified on 3/22/2017 9:24:56 AM