Emotional support animals are everywhere: From coffee shops to cross-country flights, it seems there is almost no place a comfort dog can't go. As of late, comfort dogs have even shown up in the PA criminal courts. As reported by The Morning Call, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that witnesses in a criminal trial can use comfort dogs to help calm them during their testimony.
In this particular instance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the case on appeal after the jury found the defendant guilty of murder in the earlier trial. The defendant appealed the guilty verdict, arguing that the use of a comfort dog prejudiced the jury against the defendant by evoking sympathy for the prosecution's witness.
The Decision Limits the Use of Comfort Dogs
Ultimately, the PA Supreme Court held that the use of the comfort dog was appropriate in this scenario, but it may not be in others. It's important to note in this case that the prosecution's witness was a young autistic girl, and the dog was kept inside the witness box during her testimony. It wasn't paraded in front of the jury and instead was walked in and out of the courtroom before and then after the jury's arrival/exit.
The Supreme Court Judge noted that so long as a comfort dog does not jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial, then it could be allowed. Going forward, lower courts will need to review the presence of a comfort dog on a case-by-case basis and weigh the benefit of the comfort dog with possible prejudice against the defendant.
Protecting Your Constitutional Rights
Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to an impartial jury. One of the most important jobs your criminal defense attorney has is defending your rights under the United States Constitution.
These rights are often violated as early as the initial arrest, as is the case with illegal searches prohibited under the Fourth Amendment. Even after a ruling in your case, your defense attorney will be on the lookout for constitutional violations of your rights, and many times, these issues are leveraged on appeal. All too often, police, prosecutors, and even judges are apt to overlook a defendant's basic rights. The defense attorney's job is to stand in the way of these constitutional violations.
At the end of the day, the rule that comfort dogs can be allowed in courtrooms can benefit the defense team, too. You never know when a witness called on a defendant's behalf will need the comfort of a canine in order to effectively give their testimony. The ultimate point is that an experienced criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento is constantly on the lookout for anything and everything that could jeopardize a client's rights under the United States Constitution. If you're facing criminal prosecution and need an attorney, call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today.