STATE v. DEVON D., SC 19379

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Criminal; Whether Three Sexual Assault Cases Properly Joined for Trial; Whether “Comfort Canine” Properly Allowed to Sit Near Child Victim While She Testified.  The state charged the defendant, in three separate cases, with sexually assaulting three of his children.  The cases were joined for a single jury trial, and the trial court denied the defendant's motion that the cases be severed.  The defendant was convicted as charged and he appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly denied his motion to sever in violation of his rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury.  The defendant also claimed that the trial court improperly permitted the state to have a dog sit near one of the victims while she testified to provide her comfort and emotional support.  The Appellate Court (150 Conn. App. 514) reversed the convictions and remanded the cases for new trials, concluding that the joinder of the cases was improper because the evidence in each case was not cross admissible and that the joinder resulted in substantial prejudice to the defendant that was beyond the curative power of the trial court's jury instructions.  As to the defendant’s challenge to the use of a “comfort canine,” the Appellate Court found that a trial court has the inherent discretionary authority to allow the use of a suitably trained dog as a comfort tool when a need is clearly demonstrated.  The court found that the trial court had abused its discretion in allowing the comfort canine here in that it never made a finding—and the state made no showing—that the special procedure was necessary under the circumstances.  The court noted that a therapist and the dog spent only an hour with the child before the therapist testified about the benefits of therapy dogs and about the calming effect that the dog had on the child once she got over her initial fear of the animal.  The therapist also testified that he had no idea if the dog’s presence increased the reliability of the child’s testimony, that he had never used this dog at a jury trial before, and that the dog was not yet certified as a service dog.   The Supreme Court granted the state certification to appeal, and it will decide whether the Appellate Court properly found that the trial court erred in joining the three sexual assault cases against the defendant and properly determined that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the eight year old victim to testify accompanied by a comfort canine.