VICTIM-FOCUSED CRIMINAL JUSTICE IMPROVEMENTS EXPECTED TO MOVE THIS WEEK
HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania’s prosecutors say they need new tools to help victims of crime and hold perpetrators of economic crimes accountable.
This week, the Judiciary Committees in both the state House and Senate will consider several bills designed to address shortcomings in the law to help better protect the most vulnerable victims of crime in the criminal justice process, ensure victims’ rights are protected and hold perpetrators of economic crimes accountable.
“Pennsylvania prosecutors are constantly engaged in improving the criminal justice system,” said Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) President and Berks County District Attorney John Adams. “The legislation moving this week will significantly improve the experience victims of crime have in the criminal justice system and recognizes that the law must keep up with technology. These bills are all deserving of broad, bipartisan support.”
Before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will be legislation designed to help the most vulnerable victims testify in court and ensure the voices of victims of crime are heard. Three bills will be considered by the committee to address difficult courtroom situations prosecutors have identified to ensure that reliable evidence from these vulnerable victims can be introduced at trial and further protect them from character attacks. Another bill is a constitutional amendment to ensure that Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act is adhered to throughout the entire criminal justice process:
- HB 2324 expands the rape shield law to cover prior sexual victimizations. While current law prevents evidence of a victim’s prior sexual history from being introduced in court when that evidence is intended to be used to undermine his or her credibility, it does not cover instances when the victim has been sexually victimized in the past. There is no credible reason why the rape shield law should protect against questions regarding prior consensual sex but not protect against questions regarding prior nonconsensual sex. HB 2324 also expands the number of crimes to which the rape shield law would apply to cover additional sexual crimes, such as human trafficking.
- HB 2321and HB 2325 improve the “tender years” exception.The tender years exception presently allows certain out-of-court statements, or hearsay, to be introduced into evidence at trial if a child sexual abuse victim, under reliable circumstances, made the statement. But, the exception is too narrow and does not cover victims with intellectual disabilities or autism. Additionally, the exception fails to apply to a significant number of sex crimes including human trafficking. Collectively, HB 2321 and HB 2325 remedy these shortcomings.
- Finally, the House Judiciary Committee will be considering SB 1011, known as Marsy’s Law, which would create a Constitutional amendment to ensure the rights of crime victims. The PDAA has said that the rights of crime victims need to be protected by our Constitution, not just by statue, and this is exactly what HB 1011 would provide.
“These changes recognize both the challenges and the rights of victims,” Adams said. “Having to testify in court as a victim of crime is hard enough. When the victim has an intellectual disability and the crime committed is a serious felony, or when a victim may be asked about having been sexually assaulted in the past in order tarnish his or her character or reputation, testifying can be terrifying or even impossible.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee also has before it several important victim protection bills.
- SB 1134 creates the crime of sextortion. Sextortion is a form of extortion, where a person threatens harm or withholds a reward or service in order to coerce sexual acts, images, or videos from a victim. This is not only an abuse of power and authority—it is a sex crime with long-lasting detrimental effects on its victims. Unfortunately, current Pennsylvania laws do not cover these dangerous acts. PDAA has worked together with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in this effort to protect victims of sexual extortion.
- HB 1918 will help stop the crime of skimming and allow law enforcement to keep up with those who use sophisticated means to commit credit card fraud. Specifically, HB 1918 will make it illegal to use or possess any device capable of accessing information encoded on the computer chip, magnetic strip or stripe, or other storage mechanism of a payment card.
“Pennsylvania prosecutors are focused on making the criminal justice system work for everyone,” said Adams.
Throughout its history, PDAA has been an active presence in statewide and local initiatives on matters related to public safety. Most recently, the association successfully led efforts to rewrite Megan’s Law to ensure child predators remain on a public, statewide registry; reform Pennsylvania’s child protection laws; establish historic, first-time state funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers; create a statewide prescription drug return and disposal program to help fight back against prescription drug abuse; administer the distribution of life-saving naloxone to municipal police departments; and reform the commonwealth’s forfeiture laws. Through its Best Practices Committee, the Association also provides additional professional guidance on important issues including eyewitness identification, officer-involved shootings, internal office policies, and most recently body-worn cameras.
Contact: Richard W. Long, Executive Director (717) 238-5416.
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