DENVER (CBS4)– A mother from Denver is behind a bill moving forward in the State Legislature that would protect special needs victims of violent crimes.
The measure would allow statements made by the victim outside of a courtroom to be used during trial instead of forcing the victim to testify. Opponents argue it leaves too much room for error but supporters believe it gives special needs victims real access to justice.
“My daughter was both physically and sexually abused on the school bus,” said Jennifer Billingsley.
“This would give people who are developmentally challenged the justice we deserve,” said advocate Ann Rossart.
House Bill 1085 would allow what is considered hearsay and out of court testimony during a trial involving a developmentally disabled victim in cases of sexual assault, similar to allowances made for children.
“They’re targets because they’re powerless and a lot of times they don’t have the vocabulary to defend themselves,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat representing Aurora.
Billingsley supports the bill because of what allegedly happened to her daughter who has Down syndrome. Her daughter said a classmate attacked her on the way home from school. The suspect was never charged.
Billingsley was told there wasn’t enough evidence in the case. She believes it’s because of her daughter’s disability and probable inability to testify in court.
“I feel like if this had been a child that did not have special needs that I absolutely feel like something would have already happened,” said Billingsley. “I will fight this until the day I die. I will fight this on behalf of my child.”
Those opposed to the bill believe out of court testimony isn’t always credible.
“You’re using thise statement to prosecute and charge one of the most serious crimes we have, how reliable is that out of court statement?” said Colorado Criminal Defense Bar spokeswoman Bridget Kaluber.
The bill heads to the full House for its second reading.