PDSC says bill to protect identity of sexual assault victims is too restrictive

This article was originally published on K57 on January 21, 2022.

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Senator Frank Blas Jr.’s bill to protect the identity of minors who are victims of sexual assault was met with opposition from John Morrison, Deputy Director of Public Defender Service Corporation (PDSC). The bill is too restrictive, said Morrison.

“It sort of left me feeling that this bill must be designed to limit what defense attorneys are saying in their pleadings and what defense attorneys are saying on the record. First, if we look at subparagraph B again, I believe this statute will keep us from adequately investigating a case. It seems like this would violate the Sixth Amendment.”

In an interview, Blas said the bill was crafted with “consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and was sparked by a noticeable increase in the number of news reports of criminal sexual conduct cases and some concern prosecutors and victim advocate groups had with . . . wanting to ensure [the privacy of] the victim of sexual assault.”

Attorney General (AG) Leevin T. Camacho chose not to attend the public hearing but had left a message with Speaker Therese Terlaje saying that he does not oppose the legislation. He also said he would be willing to answer any questions raised at the hearing and asked that any questions for him be forwarded to his office.

However, Blas said he wished that the AG had chosen to attend to better explain and defend the bill.

Standing Rules

Morrison said that there are already standing rules that protect the identity of minors who are victims of sexual assault. Blas argued those rules need to be codified and that his bill achieves that.

Blas said that he understands that inevitably, the name and identity of the minor would have to be revealed to conduct Court procedures and the bill does not prevent the Court or attorneys from using that information as needed. “It also gives discretion to the Court as far as how parameters are going to be set,” said Blas.

“It wasn’t my concern that the information wasn’t being provided to the accused,” said Morrison, “but that it would put us in a situation where our investigative team wouldn’t be able to go out into the field and talk to people who know this person and ask them questions without revealing their identity, which appears to be a misdemeanor if this were to be the law. It would prevent that critical function from occurring.”

An alternative, says Morrison, is to use the victim’s initials, as the Courts already do under standing rules, but limiting the use of a victim’s identity may interfere with justice. He also does not think it would be feasible to enforce the law as it is, as the punishment for breaking this law is a misdemeanor.

 

Below is a copy of Bill 147-36:

Bill No. 147-36 (LS)