Governor signs Sen. Holly J. Mitchell bill to exempt all minors from open court criminal testimony

August 11, 2015

Sacramento — A measure to spare child witnesses from being required to give testimony in open court in criminal cases, has been signed into law by the Governor. As passed by the Legislature, with an effective date of the beginning of 2016, the bill extends to any potential witness aged 13 or younger, the same protection available under law to those child witnesses who cannot be required to testify in open court if they have been a victim of the crime under adjudication.

“If the testimony of the ten year-old sister of a victim of violent domestic abuse is needed in court, she should be able to give that testimony without having to face her sibling’s accused perpetrator as she tells what happened,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), author of the new law, SB 176.  “This law protects the innocent while helping to pursue the guilty. I’m glad Governor Brown agrees.”

The new law does not exempt a minor from being a witness in a criminal trial, but allows for arrangements be made for a child’s relevant testimony to be obtained outside the court room. It also calls for judges to give extra weight to the interests of a child witness, whether victim of a crime or not, in making decisions concerning the child’s participation in a prosecution. In the course of making such determinations, the concerns of the parents or guardians are to be heard.

“It isn’t just directly confronting the accused – all too often, a relative – while speaking about their behavior to strangers that is intimidating,” added Senator Mitchell. “The entire formal setting of criminal and civil prosecution is potentially traumatizing. If the minor giving testimony wasn’t the direct victim of the perpetrator, let’s not make that child a victim in the courtroom.”

SB 176 was sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice, and supported by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the California Coalition for Youth and the California District Attorney’s Association.