Emotional Support Dogs for Witnesses in Court
Sec. 1. Purpose
Victims and witnesses of violent crimes who testify in court often suffer unimaginable stress and anxiety as they relive the events surrounding the crime during their testimony. Certified facility dogs who are trained to provide emotional support in a courtroom setting have been used in courthouses across the country to help ease tension and to aid witnesses in providing accurate testimony.
Sec. 2. Definitions
Certified Facility Dog: a dog who has graduated from an assistance dog organization that is accredited by Assistance Dogs International or a similar internationally recognized nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to grant accreditation to assistance dog organizations based on standards of excellence in all areas of assistance dog acquisition, training, and placement.
Sec. 3. Facility dogs; use in court; procedure
(a) The court shall allow a witness testifying in a violent crime proceeding who is either under eighteen years of age or who has a developmental disability to have a certified facility dog, if available, accompany them while testifying in court.
(b) The court may allow any witness who does not meet the criteria provided for in subsection (a) of this Section to have a certified facility dog, if available, accompany them while testifying in court.
(c) A party seeking the use of a certified facility dog must file a notice with the court that includes the certification of the dog, the name of the person or entity who certified the dog and evidence that the dog is insured.
(d) To ensure that the presence of a certified facility dog does not influence the jury or is not a reflection on the truthfulness of any testimony that is offered by the victim or witness, the court shall instruct the jury on the role of the facility dog and inform the jury that the certified facility dog is a trained animal.
Humans have an unquestionable bond with companion animals. Over the last several years, attorneys and judges across the country have discovered that tapping into this bond may help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that victims and witnesses of violent crimes such as sexual assault and murder experience when they testify to graphic facts of the case in court. Cases in recent years that have benefited from the use of facility dogs in court involve young children who have been sexually assaulted by a relative or who have observed a friendâ€™s violent murder.
While a few judges and attorneys have considered whether the presence of a dog in court can bias the jury, causing them to place more weight on the witnessesâ€™ testimony to the detriment of the defendant, the general consensus is that allowing certain witnesses access to facility dogs is overwhelmingly more beneficial than prejudicial and that any bias that arises will not alter the outcome of the case. Moreover, courthouse facility dogs are available to all witnesses, including eligible defense witnesses.
This legislative measure is non-controversial. Eleven states â€“ Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Oklahoma and Virginia â€“ have provisions that allow attorneys to use certified animals, usually dogs, to accompany certain vulnerable witnesses who testify in court and more states are continuing to consider similar legislation each year. All bills that have successfully passed have done so by unanimous consent or with an overwhelming majority of votes.
State Laws: Arizona (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-444.2); Arkansas: Ark. Code § 16-43-1002; California, Connecticut: Public Act No. 17-185; Florida (Fla. Stat. § 92.55); Hawaii: Haw. Rev. Stat. § 621-30; Idaho: 2017 Session Law 176; Illinois: 725 I.L.C.S. 5/106B-10; Maryland: 2017 Session - Chapter 197; Oklahoma: Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 2611.12; Virginia: Va. Code § 18.2-67.9:1.