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Can facility dogs be considered prejudicial?

On Behalf of | Oct 8, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Facing criminal charges in Washington can be terrifying. When there is a child witness in the case, facility dogs might be brought in to help. It’s fair to wonder if facility dogs can be considered prejudicial to a defendant.

What is a facility dog?

A facility dog is a dog that is brought in by the prosecutor during a criminal trial. The role of the dog is to comfort child witnesses during their testimony in court. To some criminal defense attorneys, this might be viewed as prejudicial due to the appearance of the dog and how the animal calms the child witness.

In recent years, 15 states passed laws allowing facility dogs to help vulnerable witnesses. Usually, those witnesses are children who have an association with abuse or violence cases. Less often, the witness might be an adult.

What is the argument against facility dogs?

Some criminal defense attorneys argue that facility dogs should not be in the courtroom and that their presence can be detrimental to a person getting a fair trial. They further argue that the court is not a place to comfort victims or witnesses.

Other lawyers are not quite as harsh in their beliefs about facility dogs but agree that they shouldn’t be there. They might not think that the dogs are prejudicial but that they shouldn’t be referred to as “comfort” dogs. They point out that using the word to describe the canines insinuates that witnesses need to be comforted, which also implies that they have suffered trauma.

Experiment on the use of facility dogs

A study was done that included an experiment to determine what it’s like to have a trial with a facility dog involved. Mock jurors were given a transcript and pictures of child witnesses with facility dogs. Two experiments showed that the mock jurors’ decisions weren’t influenced by the photos of a child with a facility dog. Another involving a photo of a small child holding tightly to a Teddy bear had a different effect as the mock jurors claimed they would convict.

The results of the study showed that facility dogs are not prejudicial and that criminal defense attorneys shouldn’t worry that their presence would influence the outcome of a trial.