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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=25679
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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: April 16, 2018 11:03 AM
From: Representative Garth D. Everett and Rep. Bryan Barbin, Rep. Stephen Bloom
To: All House members
Subject: Helping Those Who Are Victimized to Testify Against Their Abusers
 
We are offering a package of important legislation designed to better protect crime victims from abuse and violence by helping those who are victimized to testify against their abusers. Our bills will do this in three ways:

(1) Strengthening Protections for Young Abuse Victims: Modestly expands the tender years exception to the general rule against out-of-court statements (i.e., hearsay) being introduced into evidence, thus helping more child victims to testify against their abusers.

(2) Shielding Rape Victims From Irrelevant Cross Examination: Specifies that irrelevant reports by a rape victim of other forms of abuse cannot be used at trial to attack the victim’s credibility.

(3) Protecting Intellectually Disabled and Autistic Victims: Applies the same protections afforded vulnerable children under the tender years exception for testimony to those who because of intellectual disabilities or autism are similarly vulnerable.

More specific information about each bill is included below. We hope you will join us in supporting this package of bills so that our most vulnerable crime victims have a fair chance at holding their perpetrators accountable.



Document #1

Introduced as HB2321

Description: Strengthening Protections for Young Abuse Victims (Rep. Bloom)

This legislation will modestly expand what is known as the tender years exception.  This bill is necessary because current law is limited to too few crimes and therefore fails to help enough child victims.

The tender years exception allows for the admission of a child’s out-of-court statement due to the fragile nature of young victims of abuse. In Pennsylvania, our law currently provides that a hearsay statement of a child victim under the age of twelve is admissible -- provided that the evidence is relevant and that the time, content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient indicia of reliability, and that the young victim is not able to testify in court.

Unfortunately, current Pennsylvania law only covers a limited number of sexual or violent offenses with the tender years exception:  homicide, assault, kidnapping, certain sexual offenses like rape, burglary and robbery.  Current law does not cover other serious sexual offenses involving children:  human trafficking, incest, endangering the welfare of children (if the conduct involved sexual contact with the child), corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children, and sexual exploitation of children.  Each of these crimes is serious and significant and often has deleterious consequences on its young victims.

This bill would add these serious crimes to the tender years exception.  As with the current crimes covered by the tender years exception, statements made by children about the proposed new crimes would still need to be made in circumstances showing reliability. 
 
  View Attachment
 

Document #2

Introduced as HB2324

Description: Shielding Rape Victims From Irrelevant Cross Examination (Rep. Barbin)

This bill seeks to carefully expand the rape shield law to cover instances where the rape victim may be asked about prior victimizations or allegations of victimizations that he or she has made. 

Pennsylvania’s rape shield law is designed to protect the victims of sex crimes during criminal proceedings.  Absent a showing of relevancy, current law prevents defendants from introducing evidence of a victim’s past sexual conduct because the character and sexual history of a victim is not probative to the issue of the guilt or innocence of the defendant.  Nor should victims of sex crimes be shamed because of prior behavior that is irrelevant.   

Unfortunately, current law contains a loophole.  Victims of sex crimes can still be cross examined about times they were victimized -- such as child abuse or assaults.  Asking a victim about times in the past when she was a victim or claimed he was a victim is another unfortunate way to dismiss the victim’s character, to demean her in open court, to introduce evidence irrelevant to whether the defendant is guilty or not, and ultimately to discourage victims from coming forward. 

Importantly, the rape shield law does not bar admission of such evidence in all circumstances.  By way of example, evidence that could explain objective signs of physical trauma or to establish specific bias against a defendant as a motive to fabricate is admissible, and would continue to be admissible under this legislation.  Instead, this bill seeks a narrow expansion of the rape shield law to cover instances of allegations of prior victimizations.

This bill will also expand the number of crimes subject to the protections under the rape shield law to include additional serious crimes such as human trafficking, incest, endangering the welfare of children (if the conduct involved sexual contact with the child), corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children, and sexual exploitation of children.
 
  View Attachment
 

Document #3

Introduced as HB2325

Description: Protecting Intellectually Disabled and Autistic Victims (Rep. Everett)

This bill will essentially apply the existing tender years exception to those with intellectual disabilities or autism.  This legislation will allow a reliable but hearsay statement from a victim who is intellectually disabled or autistic to be admissible in court, provided that the evidence is relevant, that the time, content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient indicia 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 those without disabilities. We also know that predators target people with disabilities or severe autism because they know these victims can be easier to manipulate or may have difficulty testifying later.  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. 
 
  View Attachment