Senate Committee Hears Important Child Victim Bill

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Tippecanoe County Prosecutor and President of the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc., Pat Harrington, testified in support of Senate Bill 206 on Wednesday.

Senator Mark Messmer, R-Jasper

SB 206, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, disallows discovery depositions of sex crime victims under the age of 16 unless the victim will not be available to testify at trial or the court finds that exceptional circumstances exist and the deposition is in the best interests of justice. Harrington told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday the bill would go a long way in protecting child victims in sex crimes from experiencing further and unnecessary trauma. Between forensic interviews, discovery depositions conducted by defense attorneys and testifying in court, child victims are tragically re-traumatized on a regular basis, which can result in emotional distress, self-harm, and depression.

Prosecutors believe limiting depositions in these types of cases will benefit child sexual abuse victims, while also protecting a defendant’s constitutional right to confront their accusers at trial. The U.S. Supreme Court established in a 1977 case that the opportunity for cross-examination at trial is sufficient to satisfy the 6th Amendment right to confrontation.

Patrick Harrington

“We understand the challenges at times of balancing the rights of a defendant with a victim’s right to be treated with respect and dignity,” Harrington said. “And this bill will help restore that balance and provide a more victim-centered approach for child victims who have been through a very traumatic experience.”

Courtney Curtis

Courtney Curtis, Assistant Executive Director for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, also testified in support of SB 206. Curtis explained that in sexual abuse cases, the vast majority of child victims are given a forensic interview by a trained child forensic specialist. Their training is trauma-informed and designed to be legally sound in order to protect the integrity of the evidence, regardless of the child’s age or communication skills. Curtis also informed committee members that these forensic interviews of child victims are both audio and video recorded and those recordings are shared with defense attorneys.

SB 206 is expected to receive a vote in committee next week.