Survey: Nearly 9 out of 10 judges welcome ‘man’s best friend’ in court

By Anna-Leigh Firth

Our September Question of the Month asked NJC alumni, “Would you allow a professionally trained facility dog in the courtroom during a trial to assist a victim or vulnerable witness while giving testimony?”

Of the 797 judges who responded to the emailed question – a high number compared to previous polls – nearly 90 percent said yes. Of the 272 who left comments, the majority essentially said, “Why not?”

“If this measure gives a victim or witness the ability to testify, we will have provided for a just proceeding,” wrote Spokane County (WA) Superior Court Judge Ray F. Clary.

Judge Theresa Royall of the Nottoway County (VA) Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court reported that her court’s facility dog had an “incredibly calming effect on anxious victims, especially children.”

Other judges voted yes on dogs but only with preconditions. There had to be demonstrated need. All parties would have to be allowed to use the dog, and both counsel would have to approve. The jury would need to be informed that the witness was not more vulnerable because of the dog. And the dog would have to be kept out of sight of the jury.

Some judges said they would permit seeing-eye dogs and the like but not emotional support dogs.

Among the 10 percent of judges who were not favorable to canines in court, jury trials were a common concern.

One anonymous judge worried that a visible “comfort” dog could weaken the presumption of innocence for the accused.

“[T]he presence of the animal permits the jury to draw the inference that the complainant is terrified or overwhelmed, allowing sympathy and/or prejudice to be interjected into the proofs,” the judge wrote.

Another anonymous judge who serves in a jurisdiction with a large Muslim population warned that “not all cultures love dogs.”

* Each month the College emails an informal, non-scientific one-question survey to its more than 12,000 judicial alumni in the United States and abroad. The results, summarized in the NJC’s Judicial Edge Today, are not intended to be characterized as conclusive research findings.

NJC News
protest international activist movement protesting against racism and fighting for justice - Demonstrators from different cultures and race protest on street for equal rights
Conversations on Racial Justice

Judging the Judiciary on Race America’s judges confront the system’s culpability for racial injustic...

Caption reads
COVID has helped cure some of the court’s ills

COVID-19 has killed more than 200,000 Americans since it took our first citizen in early February 2020. It ...

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars. 3d render
COVID & courses update

All remaining 2020 in person courses have been cancelled or converted to online delivery. Here’s the cale...

Tractor trailer hauling a load at dawn.
Judges learn when revoking a commercial driver’s license is appropriate

National Judicial College to receive more than $2 million from federal highway safety agencies

The nation’s oldest and largest college for judges, The National Judicial College (NJC), has entered into...

View All News

Download a PDF of our complete 2020 course catalog