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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.


bail, Hartford criminal defense attorneyOver the last several months, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy has been making rounds throughout the state as he tries to garner support for proposals that would continue his intended reform of the criminal justice system. The governor has labeled his efforts, which began several years ago, as “Second Chance Society” initiatives, as they focus on rehabilitating non-violent offenders and keeping them out of the state’s already crowded prisons. In 2015, Malloy was successful in getting his first series of proposals passed by the state legislature, reducing penalties and emphasizing treatment for non-violent drug offenders. This year, the governor is pushing for—among other objectives—a reform of the state’s bail programs, a change that some say is not all that necessary.

A Look at the Numbers

The Connecticut Sentencing Commission—a non-partisan committee whose membership includes judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials—conducted a study of the current state of the bail system in Connecticut. The Commission found that of the 14,800 inmates in the state’s jails and prisons, approximately one-fourth have yet to go to trial or are awaiting sentencing. About 650 defendants are still in jail for cases in which bail was set at less than $20,000. According to the Commission’s findings, approximately 14 percent of all defendants arrested for a crime are held on some sort of financial bail.


apartment, fourth amendment, Hartford criminal defense attorneyIn 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in Florida v. Jardines, a case that involved the presence of a drug-sniffing dog on the porch of a suspect’s home without a warrant. The dog’s behavior on the porch and around the home suggested to law enforcement officers that there were illegal drugs inside the home. Based on the dog’s alert, the police obtained a warrant, searched the home, and arrested the suspect for marijuana trafficking. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the area “immediately surrounding and associated with home is part of the home for Fourth Amendment purposes,” and that the introduction of the drug-sniffing dog with a warrant based on probable cause was a violation of the owner’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Precedent for Apartments?

From a practical standpoint, the high court’s ruling in Jardines applies fairly easily to single family dwellings and duplexes that share very little common area. But do the same Fourth Amendment rights apply to those who live in apartments, condos, and other homes with shared hallways and public spaces? In the federal court system, circuits around the country have been divided on the issue, which may be an indication that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately need to put the matter to rest. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case very similar to Jardines, but that involved a drug-sniffing dog in the common hallway of an apartment building in Hartford County.

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