Legislation introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process received final legislative approval today (June 19) and is now headed to the Governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 469, which was approved by the House of Representatives today and by the Senate on April 9, 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.”
Contact: Matt Azeles firstname.lastname@example.org