Imagine you’re in court, defending yourself against charges of murder. How would you feel if it turned out that your fate depended on how a dog responded to you? Or to put it more accurately, how the people in the courtroom interpreted how the dog responded to you?
That was the situation in a recent murder trial in Tours, France. During a preliminary hearing, the judge tried an experiment: Bring the victim’s dog to the witness stand and see how he reacted to the defendant. The defendant was given a baseball bat and told to gesture as if he were threatening the dog, Tango. To make it scientific (supposedly), the court also brought Norman, a dog of the same age and breed to the stand and had the defendant threaten him with the baseball bat.
As you can imagine, the defense attorney said the whole thing was ridiculous. Talking to a French radio station, attorney Gregoire Lafarge said, “So if Tango lifted his right paw, moved his mouth or his tail, is he recognizing my client or not? I find it very troubling for the French legal system. If a judge ignores the demands of reason and surrounds himself with experts who are unreasonable, well the system becomes very dangerous.”
Fortunately for Lafarge and his client, the experiment was a failure. Neither dog showed much interest in the defendant or the bat, so they went home and the trial continued without them. Nevertheless, why did a legal professional think that this was a good idea?
It’s true that most dog lovers feel like their canine buddies talk to them, but usually it’s in broad emotional strokes. You get “I’m hungry,” rather than “I would like a lightly -baked chicken breast au gratin, with a side of turkey-flavored Kibble.” You certainly don’t get testimony about who assaulted who and when.
The scary thing is that this isn’t the first time that French courts have tried this sort of thing. In 2008, Judge Thomas Cassuto brought a dog named Scooby into the witness stand during the investigation of an apparent suicide. As several different suspects were brought forward, the court recorded all of Scooby’s barks and other reactions.
However, just because there’s precedent doesn’t make something a good idea. Hopefully the French judiciary will have learned that now.
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