Dog helps victims testify

Aug. 17, 2012 at 1:36 PM

SACRAMENTO, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The handler of a California dog used to comfort victims of sexual and violent crimes when they are called to testify said the trend is going nationwide.

Marcia Christian, supervising victim advocate for the Sacramento County district attorney's office, said Reggie the standard poodle joined the office a few years ago and has proven his worth in accompanying children and other vulnerable witnesses to the stand to testify against their attackers, The Sacramento Bee reported Friday.

"For many, the crime changes their whole worldview," she said. "They may be afraid to trust people, afraid of going out at night."

Courts in an increasing number of states have allowed "comfort dogs" to accompany certain witnesses to court, Christian said.

Defense lawyer Joel Deckler said he and his colleagues fear a dog's presence in the courtroom could influence jurors.

"The presence of a dog in this trial will increase my stress [and influence pet-loving jurors]," Deckler said last year in an unsuccessful attempt to have Reggie barred from the courtroom during a trial.

"I like Reggie," Deckler said later. "My wife and I, our next dog may be a standard poodle. But this was a unique situation and I had to protect my client's rights."

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