A measure passed today in the House of Representatives that would allow for child witnesses who testify in criminal cases to be accompanied by a therapeutic dog.
House Bill 2591, by state Rep. Pam Peterson, adds a new law into the state books recognizing the special circumstances and needs of child witnesses during court proceedings. The child witness shall have the right to be accompanied by a therapeutic dog in lieu of a support person while giving testimony during proceedings. It passed out of the House by a vote of 93-0.
“It is very daunting and traumatic for a young child to appear before a room full of adults in court and testify,” said Rep. Peterson, R-Tulsa. “Currently, state law allows for a support person to be in attendance with the child for court appearances, but this measure would make it legal for therapeutic dogs to be used all across the state. These dogs have already been used in Tulsa and Wagoner counties with great success and this bill will bring the option for this program to be used in every corner of Oklahoma.
“This is already becoming a common practice across the United States. There are so many benefits for both the child and the court. For example, studies have shown that the duration of the testimony from the child is significantly reduced because he or she is more at ease and composed. Also, the presence of the animals empowers children to testify without fear or emotional distress, which leads to better testimonies on the stand.”
HB 2591 now heads to the state Senate for further consideration.