Judge rules law allowing dogs in court is unconstitutional

Carl Court/Getty Images

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas judge ruled that a law allowing child victims of sexual assault to testify while accompanied by a comfort dog is unconstitutional.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen determined Monday that state lawmakers exceeded authority by passing the Courthouse Dogs Child Witness Support Act, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Griffen said the law violates the Arkansas Constitution’s separation of powers clause by holding judiciary authority for courtroom procedure and operations. The clause bans one branch of government from wielding the power of another.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge disagreed with the ruling, saying the law is constitutional. Prosecutors can appeal the ruling.

“The attorney general applauds the use of comfort dogs with child witnesses, as those young people are in an extraordinarily intimidating venue having to testify on matters that are often deeply personal and difficult to discuss in front of strangers,” the spokesman said.

Griffen’s ruling comes after defense attorneys filed a motion against having a “certified facility dog” in Perry County court for a sexual assault case. Ricky Snuggs is facing two counts of rape, both involving the same girl.

The law requires court procedures, including a petition, for using a dog. Prosecutors Jason Ables and Michelle Quiller had petitioned the court to allow a dog sit with the alleged victim, who’s 11, at Snuggs’ jury trial this week.

Ables and Quiller have had the girl spend time with the Labrador-golden retriever mix to establish a relationship with to help reduce the girl’s anxiety about testifying.