King County councilman urges protections for crime victims

January 28, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. Jan. 29, 2011

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn has introduced a measure to urge state legislators to shield the victims of sex crimes in the courtroom.

The measure Dunn introduced aims to generate King County Council support for a bill in the Legislature. The bill is meant to protect sex crime victims from defendants representing themselves in court, or pro se defendants.

“It is an extremely scary prospect for victims to tell their story in court,” Dunn said in a statement released Thursday. “Imagine how much more difficult it is to be questioned by an attacker directly. To get victims to come forward, the criminal justice system must offer them some protection, while balancing the rights of the accused.”

Dunn represents the rural area near Issaquah, plus Newcastle, Maple Valley and areas inside Bellevue and Renton.

House Bill 1001 declares the state has a compelling interest in the physical and psychological well-being of sex-offense victims, especially related to questioning from pro se defendants.

The legislation calls on the state Supreme Court to adopt rules by July 31 to reduce the risk of trauma to victim-witnesses.

The rules aim to place restrictions on pro se defendants questioning victims. The arrangement could allow the court to ask questions prepared by the defendant or to allow questioning via video conference.

In November, a 21-year-old woman threatened to jump off of the King County Courthouse rather than face a man accused of raping her as a child. The man had been acting as his own attorney in the trial.

Prosecutors later dropped charges related to the sexual assault, so the woman would not be called to testify.

“This young woman’s trauma is a great example of why we must become more sensitive to the victims of sexual crimes,” Dunn said. “Simple revisions to court rules could go a long way to protecting the well being of victims. At the same time, more victims might feel comfortable coming forward and reporting attacks.”

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