Legislation introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin is included in a package of bills approved by the Senate today to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process.
Senate Bill 469, sponsored by Senator Laughlin, would extend Pennsylvania’s existing Tender Years Hearsay Exception for court testimony to those with intellectual disabilities or autism. While hearsay evidence is usually prohibited in a criminal trial, the “tender years exception” allows for a statement made by a child under age 12 to some other person to become admissible against a defendant.
Under Senator Laughlin’s bill, statements from a victim who is intellectually disabled or autistic would be admissible in court provided that: the evidence is relevant; the content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient signs of reliability; and, the victim is otherwise not able to testify in person. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than people without disabilities.
“In fact, predators are more likely to target people with disabilities or severe autism because they know these victims can be easier to manipulate or may have difficulty testifying later,” said Senator Laughlin. “These victims should not be made to suffer more because they cannot necessarily communicate effectively in court. If they have made statements outside of court that are deemed by a judge to be reliable, then these statements should be admissible in court.”
The package of bills also includes measures to give crime victims more rights to attend criminal trials; provides hearsay exceptions for statements made by young witnesses of cases of sexual assault; and shields rape victims against irrelevant cross examinations. Video
Nearly 16 million Americans were victimized by crime in 2016, 5.7 million of whom were victims of violent crime.
Senate Bill 425 which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to prevent crime victims from being excluded from the trial of their offenders. Under the measure, victims would be able to attend criminal or juvenile proceedings, unless the court determines that the victim’s testimony would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at the proceeding.
Senate Bill 431 would toughen Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law by expanding the list of crimes in which past sexual conduct of a victim is inadmissible in court to include human trafficking, incest, corruption of minors, and sexual abuse and exploitation of children. It also bars evidence of past sexual victimization.
Senate Bill 479 would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses.
The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Contact: Matt Azeles firstname.lastname@example.org