Harrisburg – As part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a package of bills today designed to protect crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process, according to State Senator John DiSanto (Dauphin/Perry), who supported the proposals.
The package of bills includes measures to give crime victims more rights to attend criminal trials; expand the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism to provide testimony; provide hearsay exceptions for statements made by young witnesses of cases of sexual assault; shield rape victims against irrelevant cross examinations; and provide for a bill of rights for sexual assault survivors.
“We have many protections for the rights of the accused, but too often the victims of crime are not treated fairly by our criminal justice system,” DiSanto said. “The bills passed by the Senate today balance the scales of justice, hold criminals accountable for their actions, and stop the re-victimization of those who have already been through too much.”
The package of bills includes:
SB 399, which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence. (Amended today; Senate passage expected tomorrow.)
SB 425, which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to ensure a victim has a right not to be excluded from a trial except in extraordinary circumstances.
SB 431, which would prevent many sexual assault survivors from facing questions during cross examination about times they were victimized previously, such as child abuse or assaults.
SB 469, which would apply the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
SB 479, which would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses.
The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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