Service Dog Was OK at Trial

     SEATTLE (CN) – A man charged with burglary was not deprived of a fair trial when a judge let a dog sit next to the developmentally disabled victim when he testified, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled.
     Douglas Lare has an IQ of 65 and cerebral palsy, but lives independently and has a job. He is unable to handle his own finances.
     In 2007 his girlfriend Alesha Lair moved into his apartment and began to manipulate his finances for her own gain, prosecutors said.
     Lair had another boyfriend named Timothy Dye, and she rented an apartment which she furnished with Lare’s money, according to the three-judge panel’s 11-page ruling.
     Lare found that stuff was missing from his apartment in 2008, then found Dye rummaging through his belongings, and reported it to police.
     Dye was charged with residential burglary; Lair pleaded guilty to first-degree theft with the aggravating circumstance of a vulnerable victim.
     The King County Prosecutor’s Office has a facility dog named Ellie, and the state sought permission to have the dog sit next to Lare while he testified against Dye.
     Dye objected, claiming the dog would distract the jury, affect Dye’s allergies, and cause extreme prejudice.
     The judge instructed the jury to disregard the dog and offered accommodations for Dye’s allergies.
     The jury found Dye guilty of residential burglary, but did not aggravate the change for a vulnerable victim.
     On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals found that Dye was not deprived of a fair trial by allowing the dog to sit with Lare while he testified.
     The judges found that the presence of Ellie did not interfere with Dye’s ability to confront the victim directly.
     “Dye’s argument depends on the notion that Ellie effectively screened Lare from Dye. But Dye does not allege the dog’s presence prevented him from face-to-face confrontation with Lare,” Judge Anne Ellington wrote.
     The court also rejected Dye’s argument that Ellie’s presence “presupposed to the jury the very victimhood of the complainant.”
     Because dogs react to human stress, Dye claimed the jury was “free to interpret the dog’s signals as testimony from an unsworn witness that the victim is upset because he or she is telling the truth.”
     Even if Ellie’s temporary presence created bias or suggestibility, the court found it did not restrict Dye’s ability to expose that during cross-examination.
     The court affirmed Dye’s conviction for burglary.
     Ellington’s ruling was joined by Judges Mary Kay Becker and Ann Schindler.

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