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 was signed into law by the Governor.
Senate Bill 469, which was signed into law as Act 30 of 2019, extends 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 the new law, statements from a victim who is intellectually disabled or autistic will 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.
“I am pleased that we were able to enact this important protection for some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Senator Laughlin. “Predators are more likely to target people with disabilities or severe autism because they believe these victims can be easier to manipulate or may have difficulty testifying later. It compounds the pain when these victims have trouble communicating. Under this new law, statements they make outside of a formal – and often intimidating – courtroom will be admissible as evidence as long as they are deemed by a judge to be reliable.”
Contact: Matt Azeles firstname.lastname@example.org