The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has allowed dogs in the courtroom under certain conditions. This has been done to calm down trial witnesses.
A witness can have a comfort dog by their side, as long as the animal will help them deliver a reliable, complete, and true testimony. This was a precedent-setting opinion, which put forth a ‘balancing test’ for Pennsylvania judges.
The Supreme Court highlighted other states that allow witnesses to testify in the company of support dogs. The justices said it is allowed, but steps must be taken to cut down the harm that can be posed to a defendant.
Trial courts now have the permission to allow witnesses to testify with the help of a comfort dog. In doing so, the courts should balance the degree to which this step will help the witnesses in delivering a true testimony. This will protect against prejudice and give the defendant a fair trial.
The first time this has been practiced is in a murder case. The defendant was on trial for third-degree murder in the shooting of a man. The suspect had been given a prison sentence.
The defense argued that a Chester County judge approved a comfort dog to help a teenage witness. They argued that this dog produced sympathy amongst the jury for the girl.
On the other hand, prosecutors argued that this was done to help the girl with her fear of testifying. The judge permitted this. The condition was that the dog has to stay under the witness stand throughout the testimony. He told the jurors to ignore the dog’s presence and said that just because of the dog, they should not feel sympathetic for her and give an unbiased verdict.
The Supreme Court said that the judge’s decision was reasonable. It further said that there is nothing in the record that shows the dog was disruptive to the trial.
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