HARRISBURG – The State Senate on Tuesday approved three bills sponsored by Senator Wayne Langerholc Jr. (R-35) that would provide stronger protections and rights for crime victims in Pennsylvania.
Langerholc’s bills are part of a larger package of legislation passed this week that is aimed at strengthening protections for victims of crime and ensuring that victims and their families are treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system.
He noted that nearly 16 million Americans were victimized by crime in 2016, 5.7 million of whom were victims of violent crime.
“Today we strengthen victim rights and provide more justice and resources to those who have been affected. Today, we say your voice will be heard and we stand with you in this Commonwealth,” said Langerholc, who sponsored three of the bills.
Langerholc’s first bill, Senate Bill 399 would enact a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault. The measure was amended Tuesday and is expected to pass the Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation reflects a federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights that was signed into law in 2016. It would guarantee basic rights for sexual assault survivors, including:
- Preserving their rape kit, without charge, for the full statute of limitations, or 20 years, whichever is shorter.
- Being informed of any result of sexual assault evidence kit results, including DNA matches and toxicology reports.
- Being informed, in writing, of policies governing the collection and preservation of a sexual assault evidence kit.
- Upon written request, receiving written notice within 60 days of intended destruction or disposal of evidence.
- Upon written request, being granted further preservation of the kit.
- Being informed of these rights.
- Not being prevented from, or charged for, receiving a forensic medical exam.
“This country lacks standard measures for sexual assault victims in reporting assaults, resulting in a patchwork of laws that fail to protect their liberties,” Langerholc said.
“A comprehensive state bill of rights law in Pennsylvania will help guarantee that survivors of sexual assault have reasonable protections and procedures.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 425, which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to prevent crime victims from being excluded from the trial of their offenders.
Under the measure, victims would be able to attend criminal or juvenile proceedings, unless the court determines that the victim’s testimony would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at the proceeding.
Before making such a determination, the court would have to make every effort to permit the fullest attendance possible by the victim. The court would be required to clearly state on the record the reason for any exclusion.
“As a former assistant district attorney, I found it troublesome that victims are not always allowed to attend the entirety of criminal trials,” Langerholc said.
“This legislation would amend Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act to bring it in line with the federal law to ensure that victims’ rights are protected.”
The third bill passed, Senate Bill 431, would toughen Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law by expanding the list of crimes in which past sexual conduct of a victim is inadmissible in court to include human trafficking, incest, corruption of minors, and sexual abuse and exploitation of children. It also bars evidence of past sexual victimization
“Asking a victim about times in the past when he or she was a victim, or claimed to be a victim, is another unfortunate way to dismiss the victim’s character or try to demean them in open court, and can ultimately discourage victims from coming forward,” Langerholc said.
In addition to Langerholc’s bills, the Senate also approved to additional crime victim protection bills:
- SB 469, which would apply the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
- SB 479, which would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery and a narrow number of sexual offenses.
All five of the bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
On Monday the State Senate unanimously approved a resolution designating the week of April 7 through 14, 2019, as Crime Victims’ Rights Week in Pennsylvania.