Senate passes bill restricting depositions of child sex crime victims

Alleged child sex crime victims would be subjected to discovery depositions only in rare circumstances under a bill that passed the Indiana Senate on a nearly unanimous vote. Adoption of the legislation would remove Indiana from the handful of states that do not shield child sex crimes victims from pretrial depositions.

Senators voted 49-1 to approve Senate Bill 206,  authored by Jasper Republican Sen. Mark Messmer. The bill won bipartisan support in establishing procedures and protections that must be followed to depose children under 16 who are the victims of sex crimes.

Among key changes, defense counsel who wish to depose a child sex-crime victim would first have to contact the prosecuting attorney.

Also, courts are granted discretion to permit a deposition by either the prosecutor or defense counsel only on a showing that the child is likely to be unavailable and the deposition is necessary to preserve the child’s testimony for trial, or “for exceptional circumstances and in the interest of justice.”

The proposed law also establishes that a court may not order a deposition solely for discovery purposes. The court also would be required to issue an order “listing both the scope of and the reasons for the deposition,” among other things.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council issued a press release hailing the bill’s passage, noting that under current law, child sex crime victims are often retraumatized each time they have to recount their abuse. IPAC says Indiana is among just five states permitting “unfettered access” to depositions of young sex crime victims.

“It’s heartbreaking that any child that is a sex abuse victim should have to go through a deposition,” Messmer said. “During these cases, I believe it’s important we consider their youth and take into account the distress they have endured. This legislation would be a great step for Indiana’s court systems and I’m pleased to see it pass the Indiana Senate.”

IPAC said in its statement that if SB 206 passes, defense counsel would still have access to forensic interviews, which are conducted by trained professionals and video recorded, and the right to confrontation in a trial setting as provided by the U.S. Constitution.

Shaunestte Terrell, an attorney on the sexual abuse litigation team at Cohen & Malad P.C. in Indianapolis, praised the legislation. “As a longtime deputy prosecuting attorney in the special victims unit, I witnessed countless depositions where child victims were unnecessarily retraumatized by having to relay yet again the horrendous acts that were perpetrated upon them. This is a huge step forward for survivors of sexual abuse in Indiana. We applaud Senator Messmer and the Indiana Senate for leading the effort to protect these kids,” Terrell said.

“We would like to thank Sen. Messmer for his leadership on this important issue,” IPAC Executive Director Chris Naylor said. “SB 206 is a strong step forward for child victims who shouldn’t have to re-live their traumatic experience over and over again.”

The bill now moves to the House, where it will be sponsored by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

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