A bill to close an odd legal loophole, supported by District Attorneys, Crime Victims United, and Peace Officers’ Research Association of California, is being stonewalled in the Assembly. AB 2017 by Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Porterville) merely extends the same provisions granted to minors when giving testimony of child abuse during a criminal prosecution to victims who have a mental age under 12 as a result of an intellectual or developmental disability.
“The California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) supports AB 2017, your measure that allows for the admission of hearsay testimony of intellectually disabled victims in specified child abuse cases,” the DA’s association said in support. “We agree with you that more measures are needed to protect our most vulnerable victims in these sad cases. Your bill will help prosecutors hold offenders in these cases accountable, while still affording the courts a fair process for protecting the rights of the accused.”
The hearsay rule exemption is based exclusively upon chronological age, and does not take into consideration the sexual abuse of a minor with mental disabilities.
During a criminal prosecution, the hearsay rule states that a statement which was made other than by a witness while testifying at a hearing is inadmissible in court. However, this rule does not apply to statements made by victims who are under 12 years of age when describing any act or attempted act of child abuse with or on the child by another. There also exists a well-established legal precedent for granting both minors and those with disabilities certain exemptions and exceptions during court proceedings.
AB 2017 came about when a constituent from Mathis’ district had this happen to her daughter, as explained by a friend in a Facebook post:
“While in the care of a family member, her daughter was sexually assaulted. Her daughter went through a two hour CART interview process (recorded) at the police station and described her rape in detail. The mother believed that her daughters rapist would go to jail. When the Tulare County District Attorneys office reviewed the case, her daughter was labeled an “unreliable witness” due to her disabilities and the case was closed. No charges are pending against this man and he can go on to abuse someone else!! The mother has even had to hire an attorney to help her fight to get a permanent restraining order, this has become hard because there are no charges.”
The mom and the Tulare County District Attorney were planning on testifying on AB 2017 in the Public Safety Committee when Mathis’ office was notified by the committee consultant that the bill was not going to get supported.
Mathis’s office has more than 400 support letters from individuals in his district for AB 2017.
They said they took a meeting with both consultants from the Assembly Public Safety and Judiciary Committee and offered to make amendments, or work with them to find some middle ground, but said neither consultant was willing to do so, thus the email above.
The Globe contacted the Assembly Public Safety and Judiciary Committee consultant and asked:
“Since this bill seeks to address a legal loophole, can you tell me what are your concerns with the bill? I’d very much like to include all aspects of the issues in the article.”
We received a response back from Ms. Anderson:
“Good morning, Ms. Grimes.
Your first question seems premature since the bill will be heard in committee on March 29th. I am staff and do not vote on bills. You will need to reach out to the individual members of the committee after they vote to see who supports the bill or not and why.”
This appears to be part of the stonewall given the email above already sent to Assemblyman Mathis stating the committee would not be supporting AB 2017.
It’s difficult not to ask if the opponents of AB 2017 are okay with the legal cases of those with a developmental disability with a mental age under 12, who have been sexually assaulted, being thrown out because they aren’t allowed to have a statement made by someone else while testifying at a hearing. What about the assaulter? Shouldn’t that person be prosecuted?
During a criminal prosecution, the hearsay rule states that a statement which was made other than by a witness while testifying at a hearing is inadmissible in court. However, this rule does not apply to statements made by victims who are under 12 years of age when describing any act or attempted act of child abuse with or on the child by another.
The criminal justice and court process can be overwhelming for many. However, for persons with disabilities, the experience can be of such an intimidating nature that their participation is severely hindered to the extent that the truth of what happened to them is lost in the process.
This bill would extend the same provisions granted to minors when giving testimony of child abuse during a criminal prosecution to victims who have a mental age under 12 as a result of an intellectual or developmental disability. This measure expands upon the current criteria of chronological age, and allows for a more inclusive, fair, and equitable approach for those with disabilities to be adopted.
The exemption to the hearsay rule in AB 2017 for those with an intellectual or developmental disability is already established in state code, and grants the courts the necessary flexibility to protect the most vulnerable and at risk members of our society – as long as the cases actually make it to court.CALIFORNIA DISTRICT ATTORNEYS ASSOCIATIONnull(4)
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