Monday, March 21, 2016

Child Witnesses on the Stand with Dogs at Their Feet: Judges Deal with Complex Issues While Lawmakers Look for Photo Ops

The law on dogs accompanying children and vulnerable witnesses during testimony continues to develop, both in terms of courts accepting the practice and state legislatures enacting statutes to permit it.  For four years now I have been maintaining an article on this topic on the website of the Animal Legal & Historical Center of Michigan State University and I have just updated that article for the fourth time. 

While the trend towards acceptance of this canine function is a positive one, I continue to be concerned that certain interest groups are having too much influence, particularly with state legislators who are looking for sound bites where they can show their concern for abused children and have themselves photographed with cute puppies.  The approaches of some state legislatures, and some courts, are at risk of creating an unnecessary monopoly on who may train these dogs, with consequent limitations on the number of dogs that can be made available and overly rigid formats on how they can be used in the courtroom.  I believe that this area of law should, at this time, be allowed to develop organically from the cases presented to the criminal courts—that, in other words, the common law tradition should be allowed to develop free of legislative grandstanding. 

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