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Court strikes conviction, saying support dog was improper

June 8, 2018

DETROIT (AP) — Adults testifying in criminal cases can’t be accompanied by a support animal, the Michigan appeals court said, throwing out the conviction of a man in an Ingham County case.

Child witnesses sometimes have therapy dogs nearby to ease the anxiety of appearing in court. But the appeals court said the practice doesn’t apply to “fully abled” adults, unless the Legislature or Michigan Supreme Court allows it.

A dog named Preston and his handler were present when a woman testified against Dakota Shorter in a criminal sexual conduct trial. The prosecutor said Preston would help the woman control her emotions.

“We would not approve its use where the basis for it was simply that doing so will allow the witness to be ‘more comfortable’ or because ‘this is something she wants,’” Judges Douglas Shapiro and Michael Kelly said in a 2-1 opinion dated Thursday and released Friday.

They said it doesn’t help the “truth-finding process.”

“If the adult complainant’s emotional state constitutes evidence of guilt, the jury is entitled to evaluate her emotional state uninfluenced by outside support,” Shapiro and Kelly said.

They threw out Shorter’s conviction and 30-month prison sentence and ordered a new trial. In dissent, Judge Colleen O’Brien agreed that use of the dog was improper but said it shouldn’t spoil the conviction.

“Any credibility that the support dog’s presence may have added to the victim — or taken away from defendant — was minimal in light of the significant untainted evidence which damaged defendant’s credibility,” O’Brien said.

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