50:4 All Dogs Go To Court: The Impact of Court Facility Dogs As Comfort for Child Witnesses on a Defendant’s Right to Fair Trial

Abstract

The testimony of victims and witnesses is often crucial to the successful prosecution of a case, especially in cases where a child has been abused. Children are increasingly likely to testify in the courtroom face-to-face with the defendant, and these witnesses will undoubtedly feel apprehension about testifying. Courts are sensitive to the fear and stress children experience on the witness stand and are willing to implement protections to ease that fear. Court facility dogs can fill a gap for witnesses when traditional comfort items and support persons fail to ease their anxiety. Objections to the use of court facility dogs are often based on undue prejudice before the jury, increased perceived credibility of the witness, and distraction in the courtroom. However, an array of precautionary measures effectively combat any prejudice. With a properly trained dog and an appropriately tailored jury instruction, a defendant’s right to a fair trial will not be compromised.