Adrian Monk: How?
Lt. Randall Disher: She could bark at him.
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: Randy, as far as I know, in the State of California, dogs are not allowed to testify in open court.
Lt. Randall Disher: Maybe DeWitt's afraid they'll change the rule.
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: What, change the rule against dogs testifying in court?
Lt. Randall Disher: I don't know, one of those referendums. It is California.
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: You want to know how tired I am? I'm so tired I don't even know if that makes sense.
Even though most all animals cannot speak any human language, the lawyer will still find a way to prove a crucial point from the animal's behaviour.
As the page image and the name imply, the two most common animals by far to get hit with this trope are dogs and parrots, although there are plenty of other animals that have been seen in the witness stand in fictionland as well.
- In one of Angus' short stories published in Paperinik New Adventures a Funny Background Event involves a lawyer telling a crook that a goldfish is going to testify, with the crook admitting he'd tried to kill it... by drowning.
- In Youngblood: Judgment Day Toby "Skipper" King eventually calls to the stand Giganthro, a member of the time-travelling League of Infinity. Giganthro is a mutated caveman incapable of speaking any modern human language, though he understands well enough. Thankfully, team leader Zayla Zarn provides translation for his testimony.
- An odd case in the Homestuck Alternate Universe Fic Loophole. In this setting, although trolls are still nonhumans with human-level intelligence,note their legal and social status is somewhere between "pet" and "dangerous wild animal". So when Vriska is called up to the stand to testify about being used in a fighting ring, there's a bit of a kerfuffle.
- The bees from Bee Movie. They can actually talk, but the court had apparently not stopped to confirm that beforehand. When Barry is called to make his opening statements he starts by just making buzzing sounds as a joke.
- In the first Air Bud movie, Buddy is brought into the courtroom during the trial determining who owns him. The judge is notably not pleased with this, but reluctantly allows it so long as Buddy sits quietly and behaves himself. Buddy proceeds to bark every time the judge uses his gavel. Eventually, the judge gets so fed up with the case that he accepts Arthur Chaney's suggestion to allow Buddy to choose which owner he preferred.
- In Bingo, the title circus dog is called as a witness in a trial. His testimony causes an argument from the defense over whether a "dog point" legally counted as indicating the accused.
- The climax of the movie Born to be Wild has the titular female gorilla being called to testify about the conditions she's forced to live in. She does with the help of a sign language translator.
- In The Three Stooges short subject, Disorder in the Court, a parrot's courtroom "find the letter!" solves the crime. Especially since the letter's tied around the parrot's foot.
- Played for laughs in the 1967 Doctor Dolittle. The authorities are questioning whether the Doctor is sane and can really talk to animals. One of Dr. Dolittle's moves is to put the judge's dog on the stand! (Did the judge have five or six pieces of pie?)
- The talking "dictabird" in The Flintstones is treated as a powerful witness against the Corrupt Corporate Executive villain. The villain dies a Karmic Death rather than ever making it to trial, but apparently there is no reason why the bird couldn't have testified. (Something of a deconstruction of the ways that similar animal-tools are treated on the cartoon, in which a talking dinosaur will make some joke about its situation, but having all these talking animals around never becomes a plot point, nor is there really any communication going on between the human characters and the animals they use.)
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Played for laughs in a Show Within a Show, where Sarah Marshall plays an animal psychic detective.
- In the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street, the prosecution brings in a reindeer as a "witness," challenging Mr. Kringle to make it fly. Kringle admits that he can't—"he only flies on Christmas Eve!" Cue laughter.
Judge: Now will someone please remove the wit- the animal from the courtroom!
- A variant occurs in a Isaac Asimov short story, where US Robotics is on trial after one of their robots supposedly deliberately screwed up an important paper it was preparing for publication.note They request that the robot be brought to court to testify (which has no precedent and requires most of the story to resolve), and when it testifies, the claimant stands up and angrily announces that he told it to shut up...before realizing that he really shouldn't have said that...
- In the Chivalric Romance Bisclavret, the main character has been Shapeshifter Mode Locked by his wife and the knight that she has taken as her new husband. This strangely intelligent wolf is taken in as a royal pet, and acts perfectly tame until it suddenly attacks the adulterous knight; later, he attacks the wife as well. The king and his advisers investigate this odd behavior, discover the truth and return him to human form, restoring his barony and exiling his betrayers.
- The David Sedaris essay "A Can of Worms" is about how he overheard two men in a café wishing the nematodes that survived the space shuttle Columbia disaster could talk, so that they could tell us what went wrong.
It sounded crazy, but I remember thinking the exact same thing about the akita in the O.J. case. "Put it on the stand, let's hear what it's got to say!" It was one of those ideas that, just for a split second, seemed entirely logical — the one solution that nobody had thought of.
- In Andre Norton's Catseye, the authorities will have the Uplifted Animals under probes to give evidence about espionage. Then they will kill them. Or so Zul argues, telling Troy that death is a Mercy Kill.
- In The Curse of Chalion, an animal is used to reveal the Gods' judgement. To determine the truth of an accusation against a character, a sacred crow of the Bastard is brought in and told to fly to the truthful party. The crow in question is one that Cazaril had fed and tried to teach to say his name, and which the Gods deliberately sent to be the person making the selection.
- In The Dogs of Babel, a man goes through extreme (surgical) means to get his dog to speak as it was the only witness to his wife's death. It never mentions a court, though.
- Actually, the man doesn't go though with the surgical procedure on his dog, but instead researches (to a near ridiculous extent) another man who surgically altered his dog. Not wanting to go quite to this extreme, he looks into other methods to teach his dog to talk.
- The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden's dog actually could, and did, testify at the end of Turn Coat. And his testimony was accepted. It helps that he's a "Temple Dog" — a magical scion of a mortal canine and a Foo dog that can detect evil and is as intelligent as a human. The court was also made up of wizards who could verify that Mouse was as intelligent as he was claimed to be.
- Not a criminal trial, but similar: at the end of On a Pale Horse, we learn that Zane's performance as Death has been found to be excellent. The testimony of Mortis, his horse, is crucial to Zane's passing the evaluation.
- Vetinari's dog Wuffles in The Truth is viewed as a potential witness. It helps that they have a werewolf to translate. There is also a reference to a parrot being in witness protection, living life as a large budgerigar.
- According to Mr. Slant, a zombie lawyer who's over 300 years old and therefore knows most of the city's legal history, other animals have been put on trial as actual defendants. Including a swarm of bees! That's Ankh-Morpork for you.note
- In James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon story "Undercurrents", a dog is placed into a telepathic probe machine during a court hearing to find out who implanted it with a kill command to try and use it as a murder weapon against its owner. It's stated that while it's not common, animals are regularly used as witnesses in this manner when it's useful to do so. Subverted in that in this particular case the dog didn't actually know anything useful, but the protagonist blackmailed the machine operator into providing a fake reading that nailed the actual culprits to the wall.
- In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, a dog called as a witness saves an innocent man from a murder charge, thanks to the doctor's ability to understand Animal Talk, which allows him to serve as an interpreter. First though the doctor proves he can speak to animals by interrogating the judge's dog about what was the judge doing last evening (a testimony the judge hastily interrupts, embarrassed.)
- In the world of Xanth where Mix-and-Match Critters and sentient animals are the norm rather than the exception, even its inhabitants think the justice system is going too far when Roxanne Roc is brought to trial for cursing within the "hearing" range of the Simurgh's (as yet unhatched) chick, and she is induced to testify against herself. As it turns out, it was a Secret Test of Character over whether the people of Xanth would choose To Be Lawful or Good. The Demon Xanth, who rules Xanth and gives it magic powers, bet "Lawful", whereas another demon bet "Good".
- In Arrested Development Michael calls his brother GOB's puppet Franklin on the stand, then reveals that inside the puppet is a tape recording he made of the prosecuting attorney offering him a deal, which results in a mistrial. In a token gesture towards realism the puppet was actually on the witness list because of GOB's efforts. It also helped that it was a mock trial with Judge Reinhold as the judge.
- Used by the Witchsmeller Pursuivant in Blackadder, who called Blackadder's horse to the stand as part of the Kangaroo Court, referring to him as "Satin the Loquacious". After the horse whinnies when asked a question...
- On an episode of Columbo, the murder victim's dog helped prove that the murderer had been to the victim's house by scratching his car door. Fortunately the dog had left unique scratch marks because it was missing a claw.
- Vigilante justice variation: This is how Dexter finds out that Leon, and not the gang's no. 2, was responsible for Brother Sam's death in season 6. The dog didn't bark at the assailant, as seen on the security footage. The dog normally barks at everybody. Of course, since he kills Leon by drowning him in the ocean, it may count as Character Development.
- Divorce Court: At least one episode of the 1980s incarnation, where the custody of a dog was at stake, saw Judge William B. Keene suggest that the dog be brought into court and tell, in his own way, whom he wanted to stay with. He chose the plaintiff, a woman who had accused her husband of animal cruelty.
- Eli Stone has a gay chimp on the stand. Yes. Really.
- Hooperman used the variant where the defendant shouts in court, "I should have killed the dog, too!" — thus proving his own guilt.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: In "McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century", Charlie, in an effort to prove Bill Ponderosa is not responsible for Liam McPoyle's missing eyeball, forces the McPoyle family bird to take the witness stand. In a twist, it's with the intention of proving the animal to be the real culprit, as it apparently has a history of mutilating its owners. Charlie's attempts to force it to confess (despite it not even being a talking variety of bird) obviously fail, but it does wind up generating enough reasonable doubt to get the case thrown out when it attacks the plaintiff's attorney and gouges out his eye, too.
- JAG: In Season 5 "Front and Center" Colonel Sarah MacKenzie is defending a crewman on drug charges found on him by an old drug-sniffing dog, the client claims it was just a potent breed of oregano not marijuana. As the dog is the only reason for the charges, as the handler's testing equipment wasn't working and they destroyed the product already, Mac requests the dog verify his abilities to the court. She has ten identical bags filled by an outside independent lab, nine with the oregano the client claims to have had and one with the marijuana. The judge was skeptical, but Mac notes that these odds are in the dog's favor as normally the dog must sniff something out in a crowded airport with hundreds of bags in movement. It is permitted and the old dog fails the test by selecting an oregano-filled bag. The case is dismissed and client freed.
- Law & Order: Jack McCoy has also brought a dog into a courtroom. The dog's owners are accused of manslaughter by recklessness because the dog mauled a woman to death, and their defense is that the dog is usually gentle and well-behaved, so they couldn't have anticipated his actions. In response, McCoy has the dog brought in (on a muzzle, completely under the control of animal experts) to prove the dog is clearly aggressive by nature and that keeping it made them responsible for the people it killed. The Judge does call McCoy on it and forces McCoy to make a plea deal or he will declare a mistrial (McCoy agrees on the condition that the defendants accept a two-year minimum sentence; they try to protest, but the judge then pushes them to take it.)
- MacGyver (1985): In "Rush to Judgement", Mac arranges to put a parakeet on the stand, with the elderly women who owned it acting as interpreter. In reality, the woman was the one who had witnessed the crime, but was too nervous to testify without using the bird as an intermediary.
- Matlock: Matlock uses a victim's dog to prove the "witness" beat the dog within an inch of its life while committing the crime of which his client was accused of (as the dog went ballistic at the sight of the witness). He then shows the fallacy of the trope afterwards by revealing that the dog was a trained attack dog, and that it just goes ballistic.
- Murder, She Wrote episode "It's a Dog's Life." A dog was trained by a murderer to press a button on command, causing someone to be crushed to death by a security gate. After it was brought into court to show how it committed the act, it went over to the murderer, proving he was the one who trained it.
- The Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Perjured Parrot" had a parrot (voiced by Mel Blanc) that was found along with a body and kept saying one phrase over and over. Not only was the parrot called to the stand, but Perry was actually allowed to cross-examine the bird. Somewhat justified in that it was only an inquest rather than an actual criminal trial.
- Also counts as an Invoked Trope, as the parrot was trained to say that phrase in order to frame Perry's client. This was proven because the bird only knew the incriminating phrase, rather than other phrases that its "owner" would have used in the context of it being a pet, rather than an identical type of bird that was trained to say one specific phrase.
- In one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Tuvok used a dog as a rebuttal witness in defense of Tom Paris (successfully, it should be noted).
- Averted in To Catch A Killer (1992). The police notice that the tracker dog has taken the 'mourning position' over the trunk of Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy's car, which the dog did in a previous murder case. However they're told that in the previous case, it was not allowed as evidence.
- Good Charlotte's video for Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous shows this during a music interlude.
Lawyer: Is it true that the defense, treated you like a dog?
- One of This American Life's annual poultry-themed episodes featured the story of a lawyer who wanted to force a psychiatrist to play tic-tac-toe against a chicken in court. She was representing a mentally ill and retarded man on death row, and the prosecution was using this psychiatrist's testimony of having been beaten by him at tic-tac-toe as evidence that he was mentally competent enough to be executed. She remembered that as a kid she'd seen tic-tac-toe-playing chickens at fairs and decided to try to get permission to bring in such a chicken to prove a point about the level of intelligence required to best the psychiatrist. In her words, "Who can doubt a chicken? You can't. A chicken isn't going to lie. Chickens have integrity."
- Older Than Feudalism: In The Wasps by Aristophanes, Anticleon uses a mock trial involving his pet dogs as an allegory to prove a point about the Athenian judicial system. Then the dogs actually start testifying. Then again, the defendant is also a dog (accused of stealing cheese). Since the dogs can talk, the court goes one further by calling mute inanimate objects to witness.
- A similar bug in Dwarf Fortress, also now patched, merits an honorable mention. When vampires were introduced, they added a game mechanic in which dwarves would accuse each other of attacking and draining the blood from a dwarf who'd just been found dead, and the player would then have to try to determine which dwarf was truly responsible. Thanks to an unfortunate oversight, literally anyone in the room at the time the murder was committed could end up being accused of being the culprit, including babies and livestock.
- In a since-removed bug in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the player could get arrested by the town guards if a horse or chicken saw the deed. Even if it is your own horse. Apparently, guards appreciate testimony straight from the horse's mouth. This was used in Awkward Zombie.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, NPCs witnessing a crime committed by the player is what triggers a police response. Confusingly, players firing a gun while out alone in the wilderness will find themselves getting a Wanted level. Dataminers eventually discovered that the game's animals can "call" the police.
- In the sixth mission of Hitman: Blood Money, "You Better Watch Out...", one target's dog, which normally follows him around his suite (if not taken care of), will be listed as a witness if it sees you make the hit. This means it somehow gives police a better composite sketch...
- Ace Attorney:
- Phoenix Wright at one point called a parrot to the stand in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney; in fact said parrot actually allowed him to turn the entire case around so fast everyone got dizzy, despite the parrot being specifically trained by the Big Bad not to talk about the most damning piece of evidence (in one night, no less).
- In Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Phoenix Wright is able to "cross-examine" and prove the guilt of Amaterasu (a wolf, though one who's the physical incarnation of a sun goddess) and Rocket Raccoon (a raccoon, albeit a talking alien raccoon).
- In the DLC case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies, he defends an orca. After the orca's trainer Sasha becomes the suspect, Phoenix later cross-examines the orca for trying to get a connection to both the current case and the events one year earlier. It goes as well as you'd expect. Sasha says she came to Phoenix for help specifically because she had heard about the parrot incident above — she took the fact that he called a parrot as a witness to mean that he'd be the only lawyer willing to go out on a limb and take up an animal's defense.
- Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney sees the triumphant return of this trope. Worth noting that it wasn't Phoenix's idea this time, it was a witness's. At least this time he had someone who Speaks Fluent Animal to help the parrot understand what the question is.
Phoenix: The defence summons its new witness, Mister Cracker the Parrot!
Judge: The court sees the situation as follows...
Judge: The witnesses' testimonies do not hold together. In fact, they are as erratic as that bard's songs.
Judge: I cannot see this trial getting any more confusing. Very well... The defence may summon this avian witness!
- Cheerfully subverted but referenced in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Spirit of Justice, in which the trope is used by name, when the Judge asks if Phoenix is going to make Ahlbi's dog testify. Phoenix hurriedly says this wasn't his intent... (this time).
- Ace Ventura:
- It had a similar case, where somebody abducted a dog hoping to make it reveal the secrets of its master, a high ranked officer. All the machine that read the dog's mind caught was the dog playing with the officer. Ace pointed out to the villain that dogs don't care about military secrets.
- Another episode had Ace's monkey, Spike, signaling that he saw a beast steal a hunting dog, but Ace thought Spike was letting superstition go to his head and pretended that Spike only said that in hopes of getting a cookie. When asked about what made Spike change his statement, Ace said he gave Spike two cookies.
- Not a courtroom, but as Guitierrez is trying to replicate the incident that created Freakazoid!, the hero's alter-ego Dexter explains that the keyboard sequence was created by his cat walking on it. Then it's shown the mooks had captured the cat to interrogate him. An animal psychologist had even been brought to help, but all he could get out of the cat was "He says he's very sad."
- In the Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer Christmas special, the main character, Jake calls Santa's (talking) Reindeer to the stand. At one point he also insists that his dog bring a piece of surprise evidence into the trial for no discernible reason.
- Used in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy where Scooby-Doo makes a cameo appearance.
Scooby: [about Mandy] She made fun of the way I talk. I mean, look at me! I'm a stinkin' dog!
- The trial (over friendship custody of Grim) also included testimony from one of Billy's former pets, the fish Lil' Porkchop, who testified that he was owned by Billy for "Eleven minutes" (the runtime of an episode), and they were the worst eleven minutes of his life. Another former pet was mentioned (Wiggy Jiggy Jed), but only showed up in a picture. Billy's continuous (and non-speaking) pets, Milkshakes the cat and Mr. Snuggles the hamster (who kickstarted the whole show in the first place) are not mentioned and do not get to testify.
- Taken completely literally in the Courtroom Episode of Martha Speaks. The dog hating Mrs. Demson is trying to sue someone who wrecked her lawn furniture and Martha (a talking dog) is the only witness.
- The cats from "Pluto's Judgement Day". Curiously enough, the defendant is Pluto, a dog.
- In Road Rovers, this was the basis of an entire episode. Of course, they had phlebotinum that could make a dog into a sapient humanoid.
- In an episode of Rugrats, Angelica sues her parents over making her eat broccoli. Her witness? A stuffed animal. The defense objects, but the judge lets the toy testify anyway. It was All Just a Dream anyway.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Stop or My Dog Will Shoot", Snake winds up being freed on a technicality due to improperly filed paperwork. This was because said paperwork was filed by the police dog responsible for his capture, Santa's Little Helper, and consists of paw print markings on an official form.
- Also in "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" (Part 2), the police begin to interrogating two witnesses to the shooting. Problem is that the two who saw the crime were Santa's Little Helper and Maggie, which they even lampshaded the fact that they're not talking.
- Taken to another level in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Plankton vs. Krabs", in which Plankton sues for damages (and the Krabby Patty secret formula) after slipping at the Krusty Krab. At one point SpongeBob, as Krabs' lawyer, cross-examines a mop. "So it was you that made the floor slippery?"
- A historical variation with animal trials in medieval and early modern Europe, where non-human creatures were forced to act as defendants in a courtroom.
- Lawyer Bob Ingersoll notes that this isn't legally possible in the United States here.
- An animal or its reactions could, however, theoretically be entered as evidence in situations similar to the French case below, but it is likely that a judge would be highly unamused at the idea of bringing the actual animal into the courtroom when a video would suffice, and the prosecution would have to establish that the dog did not simply bark aggressively at, say, all people who are bald or who smell like their pet cat (which happens).
- In late 2008 a dog was called into a French court to see if it reacted to a man accused of murdering his owner. The dog barked furiously at the suspect. The dog's name? Scooby.
- In French legend, Aubry de Montdidier, a knight of King Charles V, was murdered by Richard de Macaire. The only witness was Montdidier's dog. In court the dog reacted violently to Macaire, leading the king to order a duel between Macaire and the dog. The dog won, and Macaire confessed to the murder and was hanged. The murder was said to take place in 1371.
- Very much Truth in Television. Medieval manuals on trials by combat include provisions for fighting against a dog.
- In the United States, bloodhounds and other dogs capable of following a scent trail are legally allowed to "testify". (All police dogs on the K9 units are considered to be uniformed officers. Their human handlers sometimes have a little bit of creative fun "scribing" the reports on their behalf.)
- Not necessarily testify, but in Boston, a cat was once called in for jury duty.
- An apparently Wrong Genre Savvy burglar killed a goldfish because he didn't want to leave any witnesses.
- The Book of Lists has assembled over twenty cases, including many where the animals are put on the stand for buggery.
- In 1994, when OJ Simpson's ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered, there was speculation that her Akita may have witnessed the crime. With that, there was further speculation that the dog would be brought into court to see if it would react violently to OJ, thus proving him to be the killer. Unfortunately, this tactic was never employed. One wonders whether or not this would have helped prove OJ guilty.
- Fear of this trope was what prompted one David Carlile of Berkshire, England to kidnap and sell the African gray parrot that belonged to the owner of the house he was burglarizing in 2005 (story here). When police identified and arrested him in connection with the burglary, he reportedly said Parrots can talk and I didnt want it grassing me up!
- During the Salem Witch Trials, some judges were so keen to find parties guilty, they'd allow anything from animals to corpses as witnesses. For instance, one man was accused of causing a one-eyed pig to be born on the pretty damning basis that he also had one eye. The pig was a witness at his 'trial'.
- There was a story involving a Murder-Suicide where the killer had shot her own dog (who survived). Since the dog was pretty shy around people he didn't know, was shot in the shoulder, and tried to climb on the veterinary doctor who took care of him, something the vet mentioned he only did with people he knew, it meant that either the shooter was shooting while prone (who does that in a house?) or that the dog knew the shooter and was trying to do so as he was shot. The motive was a case of adultery, and the gun was later found under a piece of furniture (the maid had panicked upon seeing the bodies and accidentally kicked it there).
- During the Reign of Terror in France, one parrot was put on the stand to testify regarding its owners' royalist sympathies. It kept repeating "Long live the King! Long live the priests! Long live the nobles!" in open court, and they got the guillotine.
- Maybe not as witnesses, but animals (and even inanimate objects) can be named as defendants in a trial as a kind of shorthand for "v. John Doe, unidentified owner of (object)". This leads to cases like the (real) "Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names".
- Police in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom were called by prosecutors to give a witness statement from "PC Peach", who was actually PD Peach, one of the force's dogs. One of the officers wrote up a statement as Peach, stating, "I chase him. I bite him. Bad man. He tasty. Good boy. Good boy Peach."
- In the early stages of the Laci Peterson disappearance, either her husband Scott or one of his relatives insisted on bringing in a dog psychic to question their Golden Retriever, McKenzie, as to what happened to her (as he was allegedly with her when she was abducted on Christmas Eve). This of course infuriated her mother, who felt that actually looking for Laci was more pertinent than spending days dealing with a psychic and deciphering any "testimony" that the dog would have. Needless to say, they didn't go through with it.