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Crime and Courts

Colorado Court of Appeals approves use of courtroom comfort dogs

The Colorado Court of Appeals said on Thursday that the defendant’s right to confrontation doesn’t carry with it a right to impose discomfort on an accusing witness

A Golden Retriever puppy. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

GRAND JUNCTION — An appellate court in Colorado has ruled a victim of sexual assault in a child case in Mesa County was allowed to bring a court facility dog for comfort during the trial.

Cory Collins, who was accused of sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 10 between 2013 and 2014, argued the dog violated his confrontation rights because its presence reduced the victim’s discomfort about naming him in court, which lessened the reliability of her testimony, The Daily Sentinel reported.

Collins was found guilty of sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust after two jury trials, the first of which ended in a mistrial. Collins was sentenced to four years to life in prison.

Collins argued in trial that he had never touched the victim inappropriately and that she was abused by a friend of her mother’s, a known sex offender. Collins claimed the girl was coerced by her mother to blame him.

He appealed to the court with multiple complaints, including that the dog deprived him of his federal and state constitutional right to confrontation.

The Colorado Court of Appeals said on Thursday that the defendant’s right to confrontation doesn’t carry with it a right to impose discomfort on an accusing witness. The court said the right of confrontation requires that a witness testify under oath, in open court and face-to-face with the defendant. It also states that the witness be subject to cross-examination by defense counsel and the jury should have the ability to observe witness demeanor.

Collins did not argue that the conditions were not met, but instead focused on the girl’s emotional state, arguing she did not feel the degree of discomfort a testifying accuser should be subject to.

“I find it disturbing that the defendant would argue that he essentially has a constitutional right to intimidate a child victim,” 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said. “Use of facility dogs at trials to comfort victims has been growing over the years, and the legislature’s stamp of approval last legislative session by enacting a statute favoring their use has been a great victory for victims in Colorado.”

The Colorado General Assembly enacted a statute in 2019 allowing the use of court facility dogs. The appellate court said this was the first contention within the state that argued the dogs violated the defendant’s confrontation rights.

Rubinstein called the animals “valuable tools” and said the dogs help witnesses calmly recount the facts of the case and enhance the truth-seeking function of the trial process.

Rising Sun