Section 92.55(4), Florida Statutes enables the court to establish conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a child, including the use of a therapy animal or facility dog that has been evaluated and registered according to national standards, in any proceeding involving a sexual offense.
The Chief Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit has determined that the use of therapy animals or facility dogs may be appropriate to assist a person with an intellectual disability or a victim or witness in proceedings involving a sexual offense or child abuse, abandonment or neglect.
Taking these issues into consideration, the Chief Judge has entered Administrative Order 17-24 Amended establishing a Therapy or Facility Dog Program for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit which provides specific guidelines for the presence and conduct of animal therapy teams in all the Courthouses of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit.
If the Office of the State Attorney, the Office of the Public Defender, the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian Ad Litem, or private retained counsel determine that the presence and use of a therapy or facility dog may aid in the testimony of a child/victim/witness at hearing, trial or deposition, that agency or individual shall contact an approved therapy animal of facility dog provider to determine availability of a therapy team and use of one of their therapy dogs. For a current list of Approved Therapy Dog Providers please Click Here.
Prior to the trial or hearing date, a timely motion requesting approval for the use of an animal therapy team must be filed with the court and a hearing scheduled with notice to all interested parties, including the 18th Circuit Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator and courthouse security staff. The moving party shall be solely responsible for informing all interested parties in any changes in date and/or time of the scheduled trial/hearing including notice to the ADA Coordinator and courthouse security.
Once the therapy or facility dog’s presence is approved by the presiding judge in a written order filed in the official court file and copied to the ADA Coordinator and courthouse security, the therapy dog team is permitted into the courthouse for all scheduled court events as well as case related events scheduled by another agency. All appearances must be scheduled and coordinated with the ADA Coordinator and courthouse security. Third parties are required to be present at all times with the therapy dog team while the therapy dog team is in the courthouse. A Guardian Ad Litem volunteer or state attorney victim advocate may serve as a third party.
Please review Administrative Order 17-24 Amended for further information and the requirements for utilizing the services of a therapy dog in sexual offense or child abuse, abandonment and neglect cases.
For further information, please contact the ADA Coordinator:
Ty W. Berdeaux
Court Operations Manager / ADA Coordinator
Moore Justice Center
2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way
Viera, Florida, 32940