August 25, 2020
Last week the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled that children do not have to testify in-person against those charged with sexually abusing them at a preliminary hearing. Going forward, subpoenas for a victim’s testimony can be rejected if there are other ways of receiving the information, except in rare cases.
This decision is a great victory for victims and will spare them from reliving traumatic events.
During child sexual assault cases, victims can become retraumatized when they have to recount the assault and trauma multiple times. The Supreme Court ruling cites research that “establishes that the experience of testifying about past abuse may cause substantial emotional trauma for victims of child sex abuse.”
Preliminary hearings are held once a defendant has entered a plea of guilty or not guilty. The prosecutor must then show enough evidence to charge the defendant. If a judge decides there is probable cause to believe the crime was committed by the defendant, a trial will be scheduled.
“A defendant has the general authority to ‘call witnesses’ at a preliminary hearing, but a subpoena compelling alleged victims to testify is per se ‘unreasonable’ when it seeks testimony that is immaterial to the probable-cause determination, would obviate the legal sufficiency of hearsay evidence, and would unnecessarily intrude on the rights of victims,” Associate Chief Justice Lee wrote in the opinion of the Court.
While the ruling does not pertain to a trial, this decision will keep victims from being subjected to reliving their trauma multiple times.
Read the Utah Supreme Court ruling here.
Deseret News: Utah Supreme Court says children don’t have to testify against abusers ahead of trial
Salt Lake Tribune: Child sex abuse victims don’t need to testify twice, Utah Supreme Court rules
Fox 13: Utah Supreme Court gives more protections for victims compelled to testify
KSL: Utah Supreme Court says children don’t have to testify against abusers ahead of trial