Bill Proposes Amendments Regarding Children's Testimony in Criminal Trials - Articles

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Posted by: Jarod Word on Jan 19, 2018
Proposed amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 24, Chapter 7, Part 1 aim to permit out-of-court statements made by children from being excluded as hearsay. Under HB1480, an out-of-court statement made by a child who is under 12 years of age at the time of a criminal trial describing any sexual act performed by, with, or on the child or describing any act of physical violence directed against the child will not be excluded from evidence at the criminal trial as hearsay if all of the following apply:
 
The court finds that the totality of the circumstances surrounding the making of the statement provides particularized guarantees of trustworthiness that make the statement at least as reliable as statements admitted under certain rules of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence. This bill lays out in detail the circumstances a court must consider in making a determination of the reliability;
 
1. The child's testimony is not reasonably obtainable by the proponent of the statement. This bill details the circumstances in which a child's testimony is not reasonably obtainable;
 
2. Independent proof exists of the sexual act or act of physical violence;
 
3. At least 10 days before the trial or hearing, a proponent of the statement has notified all other parties in writing of the content of the statement, the time and place at which the statement was made, the identity of the witness who is to testify about the statement, and the circumstances surrounding the statement that are claimed to indicate trustworthiness of the statement.
 
4. The bill will require the court to make the findings based on a hearing conducted outside the presence of the jury and to make findings of fact on the record as to the bases for the court's ruling. 
 
Similar proposed legislation has been met with consternation out of constitutional concerns for defendants. The bill has passed the first reading and has been assigned review by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. More information is available on the General Assembly website.