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NYS Senator Says Court Decision On Facility Dog Helps His Bill

Courtesy of the Office of NYS Senator Terry Gipson

A midlevel New York court has upheld the use of a facility dog in a sexual abuse case from Dutchess County. It’s a case that inspired a state senator from Dutchess to introduce a law named after the dog. 

Rosie’s Law, introduced by Democratic Senator Terry Gipson, would permit judges the discretion to allow certain witnesses to be accompanied by a facility dog when providing testimony. The law is named after Rosie, the first judicially approved courtroom facility dog in New York. Gipson says with Rosie’s help, a 15-year-old girl from Dutchess County, known as Jessica, was able to provide testimony against her father in a sexual and child abuse case. And the appellate court’s decision to uphold the use of the facility dog, says Gipson, should help his bill.

The judges rejected the father’s appeal of his 2011 convictions for predatory sexual assault against a child. Among his claims, the father says the golden retriever made the 15-year-old unduly sympathetic to the jury. The unanimous ruling by four justices says the appeal failed to show the dog's presence was impermissible under state law or impaired his right to a fair trial.

Kathleen Murphy is executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Dutchess County. Jessica’s case came through her organization. Murphy supports Rosie’s Law, and says the court decision is highly significant.

Rosie, who died in November 2012, was specially trained to sit for hours and clue into the stress of the witness, and nudge her when she froze. Murphy says allowing facility dogs to be used in this manner will help break the cycle of child abuse.

Gipson notes the law would give judges the discretion to allow facility dogs for not only child abuse victims, but for any victim or witness of a violent crime or sexual assault, as well any children or adults impaired in any way, on the defense or prosecution side. Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados introduced the bill in the Assembly. Gipson says he’s been picking up cosponsors since having introduced the bill in April, and says he is making progress in educating his colleagues about the issue.

The 39-year-old father in the case is serving 25 years to life.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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