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Commonwealth v. Purnell

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

September 22, 2021

Testifying in Pennsylvania courts is now a whole lot cuddlier. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a witness in a criminal case may utilize a “comfort dog” for support during their trial testimony. A 13-year-old autistic girl witnessed a murder. The killer pointed his gun at her before he ran. Then, the members of the killer’s gang assaulted her. The Commonwealth filed a motion to permit the girl to testify at the homicide trial with a comfort dog trained to accompany witnesses in court. Defense counsel objected, probably because he was a cat person. The Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 611 confers upon trial courts reasonable control over the mode of examining witnesses and the ability to employ procedures aimed at determining the truth.  The Rule’s language is sufficiently comprehensive to allow a trial court to consider whether a comfort dog may assist a witness in testifying truthfully during a trial. Therefore, the trial court appropriately balanced the interests of both parties and did not abuse its discretion in allowing the girl to testify with the comfort dog. Good court! Now go fetch!

Scroll down to read the court's full opinion

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