Can a dog make you a better witness?

I’ve not heard of this before, but apparently some jurisdictions are allowing dogs to take the stand.  Not to testify, of course, but to help uniquely situated victims answer questions under direct and cross-examination.  The New York Times recently covered this novel legal question and all of the thorny legal issues accompanying it:

“The new role for dogs as testimony enablers can, however, raise thorny legal questions. Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not, and some prosecutors insist that the courtroom dogs can be a crucial comfort to those enduring the ordeal of testifying, especially children.”

The arguments for both inclusion and exclusion are compelling and persuasive.  (Full article here).  We Peashooters are canine-o-philes, but as an attorney I can’t imagine how distracting this would be for the jurors and the lawyers.

One little fella piped right up and offered to help me on my next trial, but given his attitude I’m pretty sure he’d be held in contempt of court:

Objection, Your Honor!

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5 thoughts on “Can a dog make you a better witness?

  1. peashoot

    Having recently served on a jury, I can say that a dog accompanying someone on the witness stand would have been distracting, at the very least, and potentially endearing and/or frightening to members of the jury depending on their degree of canine-o-philia/phobia. And having been rather dismayed while on said jury by the way my fellow jurors arrived at their positions on the case, I’m pretty certain the “cute puppy” or “little furball” or “mangy mutt” would have been a huge factor in the final verdict.

    That said, I am also sympathetic to folks accompanied by a “therapy dog.” I can totally understand how a dog might calm one’s anxiety and make certain situations more tolerable. To my mind, the prescription of a canine mate is a more worthwhile and no doubt often more effective prescription than psychotropic medication for a lot of disorders (that do not require immediate attention for something very severe). The situation is indeed a thorny one.

    I didn’t read the entire article, but in the case of children who need some “protection” on the witness stand, as in the case of the 15 year old girl in Poughkeepsie, I think I’d be in favor of allowing the hounds to assist.

    Reply
  2. wildbillyscircusstory Post author

    Your recent service serves you well. And from a practical standpoint, attorneys have a limited amount of time to question potential jurors, so getting sucked into a “how do you feel about dogs?” colloquy would be a huge waste of time otherwise spent probing their feelings about the issues in the case.

    A lot of jurisdictions now let the “uniquely situated” witness testify via closed circuit camera. This allows the defendant the ability to fulfill his constitutional right to confront his accusers without intimidation playing a role. I imagine they will do this with the dog-enablers and keep the legal beagle out of the camera’s view, so as to avoid the issues raised in the NYT.

    Reply
  3. Peashoot

    The “legal beagle,” was that the name of the bar Larry and Jack Tripper used to scour for babes on “Three’s Company”?

    Reply
  4. wildbillyscircusstory Post author

    HA! Close…I believe that was the Regal Beagle. There’s actually a bar catering to people of our generation in Chicago bearing that moniker – I stay far, far away.

    Reply
    1. peashoot

      Our generation? Wasn’t “Three’s Company” a generation, or at least half a generation, ahead of us? In any event, you ought to open a Legal Beagle Pub in Chicago: a dog-friendly bar for lawyers and their mutts. We used to bring Macey to the Rainbo Club when drinking there in the afternoons, before the crowds developed. Other than that place, I haven’t been to any good bars that welcomed dogs (indoors, that is). I know our buddy out in San Francisco frequents a “dog bar,” which looks like a great place and a terrific idea for a bar – read all about it over at Mundohood in the piece, “Stray Bar – #BernalHeights #SanFrancisco

      Reply

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