In the Tuscaloosa News this morning:
Children who have been sexually abused would not have to testify in front of the person accused of assaulting them, according to a bill that passed the Alabama House Thursday.
The bill by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, allows children under 16-years-old to testify in sexual abuse cases on videotape outside the courtroom. The defense attorney and the prosecutor would question the child and the videotape would be shown to jurors and the defendant inside the courtroom.
The bill passed the House on a 100-0 vote and now goes to the Senate for debate. The legislation was one of the issues Attorney General Troy King listed as a priority for the session.
“There’s nothing more traumatizing in the world than a child victim who has been sexually abused to have to testify in court against his or her abuser,” Ward said. “The purpose is to protect children from having to face a person who committed a very horrible crime against them.”
I’ve already offered my thoughts on the constitutionality of this bill, so I’ll just point out that Rep. Ward must have flunked elementary logic. The point of the trial is to figure out whether the child was abused and if so whether the defendant did the abusing. Ward’s rational for the bill, though, assumes both of those things are true prior to the conclusion of the trial. That’s begging the question. He’s using as proof of his conclusion facts that have yet to be proven. I.e.: “This kid’s testimony is necessary to prove this defendant abused him. But we can’t let this kid testify because this defendant abused him.”
I suppose this is all well and good if you’re one of those folks who thinks jury trials are formalities and constitutional guarantees are technicalities (I can already hear Truman); that we just know the guy is guilty, so why bother with a trial. But if you, like me, distrust the government and want to make sure that the only people who go to jail are people who are really guilty, than you ought to be very sceptical about this bill. Like it or not, child witnesses are fallible and the constitution gives all of us the right to face our accusers.