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Johnson, Vainieri Huttle & Sumter Bill to Allow Witnesses of All Ages to Testify via Live Video in Sexual Assault Trials Clears Committee

Legislation Removes Restriction Requiring Open Court Testimony for Those Over Age 16

Legislation Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Shavonda Sumter sponsored to allow adult victims and witnesses of sexual assault to testify against a defendant via video was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

Current law permits a victim or witness who would experience severe emotional or mental distress in a courtroom to testify remotely via closed circuit television during trials for certain crimes, such as sexual assault, human trafficking involving sexual activity and child abuse, only if the victim or witness is 16 years of age or younger. The bill (A-3592) removes this age restriction.

“Victims of crime – regardless of their age – have the right to be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “All witnesses who fear subsequent emotional distress and wish to testify via CCTV should be able to seek that protection from the trauma of testifying in the defendant’s presence.”

“Any witness who feels that he or she would be in danger if put in the courtroom with the defendant may be apprehensive about testifying or may be deterred from testifying altogether,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The anxiety of providing testimony with the defendant mere feet away doesn’t only affect children, and it’s time for New Jersey law to reflect that.”

“Our judicial system works most efficiently when all those with information pertaining to a trial can provide evidence without feeling intimidated,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “No victim should have to go through additional trauma in order to pursue justice, especially when modern technology provides a means of mitigating that distress.”

Under the bill, a motion seeking closed circuit testimony may be filed by: the victim or witness or the victim’s or witness’s attorney, parent or legal guardian; the prosecutor; the defendant or the defendant’s counsel; or the trial judge on the judge’s own motion. The defendant’s counsel must be present at the taking of testimony on CCTV.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.