How Can the Use of Courthouse Therapy Dogs Affect Criminal Trials?

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Hartford, CT criminal lawyer courthouse dogsMany people enjoy the companionship of pets, and dogs or other animals can provide a great deal of comfort to those who struggle with emotional issues. Because of this, therapy dogs are being used in a wide variety of situations, such as hospitals, schools, and, increasingly, courthouses. While some have advocated for the use of these animals to provide comfort to witnesses, others have raised concerns about how this practice could affect the fairness of criminal cases.

Courthouse Dogs and Sympathy for Witnesses

Some courts have begun the practice of using therapy dogs to assist witnesses. These dogs, which may be referred to as “courthouse dogs” or “facility dogs,” are professionally trained by an accredited organization to ensure that they can remain calm in a wide variety of locations and situations, including crowded public spaces, elevators and stairways, and the presence of children. Facility dogs are meant to provide quiet companionship to witnesses without disrupting courtroom proceedings. In Connecticut, courts have the discretion to permit dogs to provide comfort and support to testifying witnesses.

Advocates for the use of courthouse dogs believe that their use will help alleged victims and vulnerable witnesses have access to justice. These dogs may provide comfort to those who have allegedly faced traumatic experiences, such as sexual assault or domestic violence, helping them express themselves when testifying. Facility dogs may also provide benefits for children who have allegedly suffered abuse or neglect and people who are developmentally disabled.

However, some criminal defense attorneys have raised concerns about how the use of courthouse dogs may unfairly influence courtroom proceedings. Jurors are likely to view witnesses more favorably if they have a lovable animal by their side while they are testifying. The presence of a therapy dog is also likely to imply that a witness has undergone a traumatic experience, that they are deserving of sympathy, and that their statements should be believed. Jurors could potentially be swayed into believing a witness’s testimony even before the witness answers any questions or makes any statements. This can jeopardize the fairness of criminal trials, resulting in unjust verdicts that are based on emotional reactions rather than the facts of the case.

Contact Our Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we fight to protect the rights of defendants during criminal proceedings, and we will work to ensure that factors that may unfairly influence a jury are not permitted during a trial. To learn how we can help you build a winning defense strategy and avoid being convicted, contact our Hartford criminal defense attorney today at 860-290-8690 to arrange a free consultation.

Sources:

https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/house-of-delegates-supports-use-of-dogs-to-comfort-witnesses

https://courthousedogs.org/dogs/facility-dogs/

https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_870.htm#sec_51-10d

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