A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the use of a partition in a courtroom to protect a child witness from a defendant does not prohibit Utah's statute allowing videotaped testimony, prosecutors said Thursday.
"The construction of a barrier in the courtroom between a child and the accused sends a definite message to the jury that the defendant must be dangerous and guilty."A videotaped testimony isn't necessarily prejudicial. A jury may assume that the child is intimidated by the courtroom itself - not the accused," Utah Assistant Attorney General Robert Parrish told the Deseret News.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an Iowa law allowing the use of a partition in a courtroom in child-abuse cases to keep children from seeing their alleged attackers is unconstitutional.
Although the justices acknowledged that children or rape victims may be emotionally upset by having to face the defendant in the courtroom, state statutes may not ignore the accused's Sixth Amendment right to be confronted by the witnesses against him.
But Parrish, who prosecuted the controversial Allan B. Hadfield child sex-abuse case in Utah County, believes the Utah statute remains constitutionally sound because the recorded testimony of a child that is presented to a jury doesn't send the same messages as a partition in a courtroom does.
The defendant can cross-examine the witness through his attorney by using a telephone in another room. While the confrontation is not "face-to-face," the accused has every opportunity to quiz the accuser in a dignified setting - without prejudicing the jury, said Parrish.
Videotaped testimony of a child victim is critical if the child is absolutely unable to testify in court - and the case would not be prosecuted without using electronic testimony, he said.
However, it is generally more effective to have the witness testify in person, said Parrish. Even though a child witness in the Hadfield case became physically sick to his stomach and had to be dismissed at one point, Parrish said the child witness has indicated since the trial that he is happy he took the witness stand in the courtroom.
Salt Lake County prosecutor Karen Knight-Eagan also believes the Utah statute differs significantly from the Iowa case.
In Utah, a judge must determine if it would be impossible for a child to testify live in a courtroom. Videotaped testimony is allowed only as a last resort. The Iowa statute directs judges to assume in all abuse cases that children would be traumatized by testifying.
While there are several cases on appeal to the Utah Supreme Court challenging the videotaped testimony statutes, Knight-Eagan and Parrish believe the state statute will be held as constitutional.