Jurors in a recent sexual assault trial and victims advocates are among those supporting a proposal to shield victims from direct questioning by defendants in the courtroom.
Under current law, criminal defendants can question victims if they waive the right to an attorney and represent themselves during trial.
But Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Seattle, is sponsoring a bill that would give judges the power to run such questions through an attorney or some other person, avoiding a face-to-face confrontation.
A legislative hearing was held today on the measure.
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Supporters say the change would spare victims the trauma of being intimidated in the courtroom. Opponents counter that it might infringe upon defendants' 6th Amendment right to confront their accuser.
Bob Cooper, representing defense lawyers, said the change would be a severe violation of constitutional rights.
"I urge you to go back and literally read the 6th Amendment," Cooper told members of the House Judiciary Committee. "It enumerates the right to confront witnesses."
Goodman's bill followed a case last year when a rape victim climbed on top of the King County Courthouse and threatened to jump before scheduled questioning by the defendant at the trial. The woman was persuaded to come down after several hours.
"It had a devastating, chilling effect on her ability to testify," Deputy King County prosecutor Val Richey said. "We had to dismiss the charges, and she never got justice. This bill is for her and for others like her who never make it to the witness stand because of fear for who will be asking the questions."
King County Superior Court Judge Steve Warning, president of the Superior Court Judges Association, supported the bill and its emphasis on leaving the practical application up to the discretion of judges.
"We can all agree that no victim of a crime should be revictimized in court," he said. The bill "eliminates that very physical, very real confrontation where the defendant is trying to intimidate the witness ... but it nevertheless preserves the ability of the defendant to ask whatever they want."
Jurors from a separate sexual assault trial last year also testified in favor of the bill, saying the defendant in that case repeatedly harassed the victim on the witness stand.
Former juror Marilyn Finnila said the experience left her so shaken that she is now seeing a trauma specialist.
"He manipulated and controlled everything," Finnila said. "It made me think that we have no compassion for victims - that they have no rights anymore."
Shankar Narayan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington warned that the bill could bring more appeals as convicts try to prove that their constitutional rights were not fully protected.
The rape testimony bill is House Bill 1001.