Monday, September 27, 2021
I was interested in this recent opinion from the Penn. Supreme Court. Not elder law specific, but interesting info none the less. In Penn. v. Purnell, the court was reviewing
the appropriate test to apply to a trial court’s determination concerning whether a witness in a criminal case may utilize a “comfort dog” for support during his or her trial testimony. We hold that a trial court should balance the degree to which the accommodation will assist the witness in testifying in a truthful manner against any possible prejudice to the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Here, the trial court allowed a witness to testify with the assistance of a comfort dog, and the Superior Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in this regard. For the reasons stated below, we agree with the Superior Court and, therefore, affirm that court’s judgment."
The issue arose when one witness to a killing was concerned about her own safety, so the State sought
a “comfort dog” be present during [the witness'] testimony. ... The motion explained that a sheriff’s deputy would transport the comfort dog, Melody, to the court and that the dog would enter the courtroom before the jury’s entrance. According to the motion, the comfort dog would be placed in the witness stand outside the presence of the jury and would exit the courtroom after the jury left the room. (citations omitted).
After reviewing arguments and rulings from other states, the court determined "that trial courts have the discretion to permit a witness to testify with the assistance of a comfort dog. In exercising that discretion, courts should balance the degree to which the accommodation will assist the witness in
testifying in a truthful manner against any possible prejudice to the defendant’s right to a fair
trial and employ means to mitigate any such prejudice."
The full opinion is available here.