Legislation has been introduced in Lansing that would allow support dogs in Michigan courtrooms.
The House bill would require courts to allow witnesses to have a support dog sit with them or be nearby as they testify.
The practice is already widely accepted. It got renewed attention during a recent sentencing hearing in Ingham County for Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University sports doctor convicted on numerous counts of sexual assault. A therapy dog named Preston was outside the Lansing courtroom as victims of Nassar confronted him about the sexual abuse he inflicted.
A growing number of courts across the U.S. are allowing specially trained dogs to accompany child abuse victims and other vulnerable people to the witness stand during criminal cases.
Advocates say the dogs provide a supportive presence for victims and witnesses when they have to testify. Some defense attorneys say the presence of a dog could prejudice a jury against the person on trial by making the witness appear more sympathetic.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says the issue is under discussion for courtrooms in Kent County.
“A lot of it has to do with logistics,’’ Becker said. “We almost have too many courts for one dog.’’
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department currently has a mixed Labrador therapy dog that assists sexual assault victims at the Children’s Assessment Center in Grand Rapids.
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