“Support Animal” May Accompany Child Witness Testifying in Court
Fair trial protection is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, and the limits are tested by developments in society. In a case brought before the Michigan Court of Appeals, a defendant argued that he was not allowed to object to a witness’s use of a “support animal” during testimony and therefore he was not afforded proper procedure. The court considered these claims meritless, as the trial court’s authority extended to allowing an animal to accompany a witness.
Support Animal Joins Child Victim on the Stand
The witness in the case was a six-year-old child who was the victim of sexual abuse, and the support animal’s planned presence in the courtroom was noted by the prosecution in a notice of intent prior to trial. At that point, the defense made no motion to object. As planned, the witness was accompanied by the “canine advocate” outlined in the intent letter. The witness’s 10-year-old brother also testified in the company of the animal.
Later, the defendant claimed he was denied proper representation and wished to object to the presence of the support animal during the witnesses’ testimony. However, the court ruled that the grounds were insubstantial because the trial court exercised its proper authority in controlling the proceedings. Courts have leeway in this manner, and nothing was out of the ordinary in the judgment of the appeals court. Thus the appeal was denied.
Legality of Support Animals in Court
The phenomenon of support animals is relatively new. Individuals who publicly demonstrate a need for accompaniment by an animal in public spaces may legally have that animal deemed a “support animal” under the law. This process led to the designation of the animal, a black Labrador, as a “canine advocate” that could appear in the courtroom.
Legality of support animals in Michigan courts has not yet been examined. However, the appeals court ruled that the trial court certainly had the right to exercise judgment in controlling the proceedings. By allowing the juvenile victim and her brother to testify on the stand accompanied by the service animal, the proceedings remained fair. Objections could have been made by defense at the time, but likely would have amounted to nothing.
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