Gov. Signs Bill to Allow TV Testimony in Abuse Cases

Times Staff Writer

Emergency legislation that would allow certain child molestation victims to testify via closed-circuit television has been signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian, his office announced today.

Prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School case say they will immediately test the new law by filing a motion this afternoon asking the court to let one alleged victim testify by television in the ongoing preliminary hearing.

There also has been disagreement in legal circles over whether the new law can apply in the McMartin trial, since the alleged crimes took place before the measure took effect.

Sought by Parents

Sought by parents of alleged victims in the McMartin case, the law empowers judges to permit children under 11 to testify via television from outside the courtroom.

Opponents of the law argue that it could deprive defendants in child molestation cases of their constitutional right to confront witnesses against them.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin, chief prosecutor in the McMartin case, said she will seek to use the new law to obtain testimony in the preliminary hearing from a young female victim.

Rubin would not provide any details about the child but said, "This is a child who could not testify in open court but we believe could testify by way of closed-circuit television."

In order to permit televised testimony, a judge must determine that an alleged victim would be unable to testify in a courtroom. The judge would have to make certain findings, including that the witness had been threatened, that a firearm had been used or that the child would be intimidated by the defense attorney.

'Means to Ease Trauma'

"This bill provides a means to help ease the trauma to some children who face having to reopen the terrible memories of sexual abuse in open court," Deukmejian said in a statement announcing his signing of the measure.

"I am satisfied that great care was taken to sensitively and legally balance the conflicting interests of providing a more comfortable setting for a child's testimony with a defendant's constitutional right to confront his or her accuser."

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