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Minnesota Legislature

Alternative testifying for children

Published (3/6/2009)
By Mike Cook
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For children, the mental trauma of a crime committed against them can be overwhelming, and having to face their offender in court may only add to the problem.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), HF720 would have Minnesota adopt the Uniform Child Witness Testimony by Alternative Methods Act, already adopted in Idaho, Nevada and Oklahoma.

Promulgated in 2002 by The National Conference of Commissioners on State Uniform Laws, the act provides alternative methods for children to testify in criminal and noncriminal proceedings when doing so would prevent further emotional trauma and is deemed to be in the child’s best interest, such as not seeing the defendant face-to-face or having to testify in an open forum.

“Minnesota was early into this field, and we come now to build on the successful experience we’ve had in Minnesota, but this goes a little further,” Jack Davies, a member of Minnesota’s Uniform Laws Commission, told the House Crime Victims/Criminal Records Division Feb. 27.

He said Minnesota’s original law only applied to cases where the child was the victim of criminal behavior, but this act expands coverage to some non-criminal proceedings.

An order for alternative testifying, issued by a presiding officer of the court, would include the method used, persons allowed in or excluded from the room during testimony and any special conditions needed to examine or cross-examine the child.

Glen Norton, legislative chairman of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s family law section, was unsure how the this would affect family court, where a child is the focus of the hearing. Hilstrom vowed to work with the association before the bill’s next stop.

“The family court is somewhat unique because sometimes, frequently, in issues of divorce, paternity, the children are the issue we are arguing over,” he said. “We haven’t studied this.”

Approved by the division, and March 5 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee, the bill was sent to the House Civil Justice Committee. A companion, SF563, sponsored by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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