Courtrooms Open Doors to Courthouse Dogs for Witnesses

Posted August 10, 2011 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

A courtroom’s an intimidating place. It’s not just the judge in the black robe and all the mysterious procedure. It’s the business that goes on there too. So to make litigants and witnesses more comfortable, should dogs be allowed with them?

     
  • More courtrooms open to letting dogs help witnesses testify
  • Specially trained dogs provide emotional support to children, alleged victims
  • Courts and some states already allow props, "support persons"
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Prosecutors, Victims’ Advocates Favor Courthouse Dogs

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One organization, Courthousedogs, appears to be the leading advocate for letting dogs in the courtroom. These are not just any dogs. Like other service animals, they’re specially trained. The dogs are used as emotional support for witnesses and alleged victims. This calming effect is said to allow witnesses to testify more fully and with less stress and emotional trauma.

If you’re stressed about testifying, or your child is a witness, you can get help. Judges already may allow other stress-reducing or "comfort" props for witnesses, especially children. So children may be allowed to bring dolls or toys with them into the witness stand. These are not just court rules. A number of states allow a "support person" to closely attend or sit with a child witness while the child testifies.

A dog, it’s claimed, is no different. Naturally there are objections to this, particularly from the defense side in criminal cases. The main objection is that the dog’s presence invokes the jurors’ sympathy. I can say that if I were accused, I would not want the dog in the courtroom. If my child were a sexual assault victim, I would want the dog if my child did. That’s the hurdle courthouse dogs must jump over.

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