To prevent children from being re-traumatized, prosecutors would be required to videotape statements from victims of abuse or neglect for use in court under a trio of bills before the Committee judiciary of the House.
House Bill 6290, House Bill 6291 and House Bill 6292 would work collectively to allow a videotaped statement to be admissible as evidence at trial, and also admissible in a preliminary examination, of a victim of child abuse or criminal sexual behavior under the age of 16.
Current law allows this to happen already although the practice is not mandatory.
Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, said in testimony that these bills are a reintroduction of bills from the previous session that died in the Senate after objections from Macomb County Attorney Eric Smith.
Smith, however, is currently serving a 21-month prison sentence after becoming embroiled in a bribery probe that led Yaroch to comment that he doesn’t believe the word of a jailed prosecutor should stop the package moving forward this time. -this.
“I didn’t think we should give any deference to a former prosecutor and his thoughts on videotaping these victims based on someone who is now in jail,” said Yaroch, also the sponsor of HB 6292. “So we’re bringing it back.”
As part of the package, an interview of a child conducted at a child assessment center for a child abuse or neglect investigation should be recorded. An exemption for this would only be allowed if a valid cause was found, such as equipment failure or an urgent circumstance.
The bills also set parameters on who can see or obtain the videotaped statements, and impose a maximum fine of $2,500 or up to one year in prison on a person if they illegally disseminate them.
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Additional stipulations on when said video recording should be returned and a reason for releasing the video statement would also be outlined in the invoices. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would not be responsible for storing or retaining a copy of the interview, but rather county attorneys should develop and establish procedures within their department to retain this evidence.
Children would also still be allowed to take the stand and testify, both Yaroch and HB 6290’s sponsor, Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield said. However, allowing the use of video – particularly when it comes to reviewing testimony – would help mitigate the harm children could experience when confronted with an alleged abuser in court.
“Essentially what concerns me is that we have the best possible procedures and protocols in place both to get to the bottom of this and get to the truth of the situation – which is what our justice system is supposed to do – and also to protect the very, very vulnerable participants in this system,” said Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, sponsor of HB 6291.
Speaking in favor of the package, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson said it was essential to give a child the ability not to have to “confront their predator again immediately when they tried to ‘to forget, to heal and to repair one’s life’.
Alex Brace, executive director of Small Talk, and Nyse Holloman, board chair of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Michigan and CEO of advocacy group Voices for Children, also testified in support of HB 6291.
Together, they recognized that all child advocacy centers in the state have the capacity to implement these bills upon their final passage and hailed the intent behind LaGrand’s bill as “a investment in child victims of abuse”.
No votes were taken on the bills on Tuesday, although the House Judiciary Committee is due to meet on Wednesday, September 21 and put all three on its agenda. If that happened, the bills would be sent to the chamber floor for a possible vote by the full House.
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