Canines in the courtroom: Comforting witnesses or unfair advantage?

Canines in the courtroom: Comforting witnesses or unfair advantage?

The Scene: A young girl, traumatised by abuse, sits in a cold, intimidating courtroom. Can a furry friend help her cope and give vital testimony?

The Debate: In recent years, therapy dogs have entered courtrooms to assist vulnerable witnesses, particularly children. While some hail them as stress-busters, others argue they unfairly sway juries.

Why Dogs in the Courtroom?

Traditional comfort objects like teddy bears are allowed, but research shows dogs are far more effective in reducing anxiety. Therapy dogs provide a calming presence and physical contact, making it easier for witnesses to speak up.

Courtroom Therapy Dog Precedent:

The practice gained traction after a 2003 case where a Labrador named Jeeter comforted twin girls testifying against their father. While the defendant appealed, citing unfair advantages, the trend continued.

Appeals Against Courtroom Therapy Dogs:

Opponents argue that dogs, especially black ones, might influence jurors. Studies suggest a “black dog bias” where black dogs are perceived as less friendly. However, research by Kylie Kulak found no evidence that dog color affects how jurors view witness testimony.

The Future of Courtroom Therapy Dogs:

Despite positive rulings, the debate continues. Lawyers are known for finding loopholes, and future arguments might focus on seemingly trivial details like a dog’s tail length.

The Hope: Currently, over 40 US states allow therapy dogs in court. Hopefully, with no evidence of juror bias based on dog appearance, these furry companions can continue to comfort vulnerable witnesses and ensure justice is served.