Dec 20, 2019      News      

Bill Allowing Trained Dogs To Sit With Witnesses In Courtrooms Passes US Senate

The U.S. Senate passed Texas Senator John Cornyn’s Courthouse Dogs Act, the Senator’s office announced Friday.

The legislation would clarify federal judges’ authority to allow certified facility dogs in courtrooms during legal proceedings.

Sen. Cornyn’s office said the legislation is based on the successful efforts of many states around the nation and guidance from experts in the field.

“Testifying in court can be a stressful experience for many, and especially children who may be asked to recall traumatic memories,” said Sen. Cornyn. “By allowing trained dogs to sit with witnesses, we can ease stress, help witnesses feel safe to share their stories, and ultimately promote justice.”

Earlier this year, the Republican Senator visited the South Texas College of Law in Houston with certified facility dogs and handlers from various District Attorneys’ offices, representatives from victim support groups and local special court judges to discuss the benefits of this bill.

Background on the Courthouse Dogs Act:

When vulnerable witnesses testify, they often experience emotional trauma that impairs their ability to participate, think, or answer questions. The use of certified courthouse dogs in the courtroom has expanded rapidly in the United States as a mechanism for calming and supporting individuals involved in courtroom proceedings. The scientific evidence for the physical and mental calming effects of appropriately bred and trained dogs is overwhelming. Currently, eight states have legislation allowing for the use of certified facility dogs to assist witnesses giving testimony, and eight other states’ courts have determined that the use of certified facility dogs may be appropriate in certain instances.

The Courthouse Dogs Act allows for any party in a federal criminal proceeding to request an order authorizing an available certified courthouse dog to accompany a witness while testifying in federal court.

In order to be certified facility dogs, they must meet the following requirements:

1. The dog must have graduated from an assistance dog organization that is a member of an internationally recognized assistance dog association whose primary purpose is based on excellence in the areas of dog acquisition, training, and placement.

2. The dog must be accompanied by a trainer who is trained to manage the dog and has knowledge about the legal and criminal justice processes.

Judges may grant the request and enter an order. If the dog is certified, he or she will aid the witness in providing testimony, and the dog is insured for liability protection.

The Courthouse Dogs Act is supported by the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, the National District Attorneys Association and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Read more from CBS DFW here.