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Apr 192012

March 27, 2012: Voted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Stewart Greenleaf.

Amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in depositions and witnesses, providing for expert testimony in certain criminal proceedings.

The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:

(1)  Research indicates that victims of sex crimes behave in many different ways, but because of the prevalence and persistence of myths and misunderstandings regarding sex crimes, jurors often perceive common victim behaviors as counterintuitive and mistakenly believe that they are compelling evidence of a victim’s lack of credibility.

(2)  One of the misconceptions of jurors is that a sexual assault victim would ordinarily be expected to make a prompt complaint to law enforcement authorities. As such, jurors often incorrectly draw an adverse inference against the credibility of a sexual assault victim.

(3)  Jurors bring their biases into the jury room and the process of jury selection often fails to reveal jurors’ mistaken beliefs about crimes of sexual violence and victim responses to sex crimes.

(4)  To overcome these myths and misunderstandings related to victim behavior, many courts have recognized that expert testimony is necessary to provide jurors with the proper context in which to evaluate a victim’s behaviors.

(5)  Counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, victim advocates, social workers and others who work with sexual assault victims possess specialized knowledge about common victim behaviors and victim responses to trauma and that expertise is beyond the experience and knowledge of the average juror.

(6)  Without an accurate context in which to evaluate victim behaviors, it is common for jurors to fail to recognize a victim’s behavior as a common response to trauma.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:
Section 1.  Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes is amended by adding a section to read:

§ 5920.  Expert testimony in certain criminal proceedings

(a)  Scope.–This section applies to all of the following:
(1)  A criminal proceeding for an offense for which registration is required under Subchapter H of Chapter 97 (relating to registration of sexual offenders).
(2) A criminal proceeding for an offense under 18 Pa.C.S. Chapter 31 (relating to sexual offense).

(b)  Qualifications and use of experts.–
(1)  In a criminal proceeding subject to this section, a witness may be qualified by the court as an expert if the witness has specialized knowledge beyond that possessed by the average layperson based on the witness’s knowledge, skill, experience, training or education that will assist the trier of fact in understanding the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted.
(2)  If qualified as an expert, the witness may testify to facts and opinions regarding specific types of victim responses and victim behaviors.
(3)  The witness’s opinion regarding the credibility of any other witness, including the victim, shall not be admissible.
(4)  A witness qualified by the court as an expert under this section may be called by the attorney for the Commonwealth or the defendant to provide the expert testimony.
Section 2.  The addition of 42 Pa.C.S. § 5920 shall apply to actions initiated on or after the effective date of this section.
Section 3.  This act shall take effect in 60 days.

 Posted by on April 19, 2012 Latest News