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New Law Gives Developmentally Disabled Better Access To Justice

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Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the bill into law on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the bill into law on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – A bill just signed in to Colorado law is aimed at giving the developmentally disabled better access to justice. The bill was created to allow hearsay testimony in cases where certain victims have developmental disabilities.

The bill was signed in to law at the Capitol Tuesday and for a Denver family they say it could mean justice for their daughter who was allegedly assaulted on her own school bus. When no charges were filed, the family says they had no choice but to support the bill.

When Jennifer Billingsley first publicly spoke about her daughter’s story, it was emotional testimony in front of state lawmakers.

“Recently my daughter was both physically and sexually abused on the school bus,” Billingsley said.

Billingsley joined the campaign to push for a hearsay exemption law that would allow testimony like that of her daughter’s to be gathered outside of a court setting and used during trial. It’s a bill that will now apply to the developmentally disabled, signed in to law by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“It allows them to be part of the system of justice,” Hickenlooper said after signing the bill into law.

Told there wasn’t enough evidence in her daughter’s case, no charges were ever filed, but Billingsley believes it’s because of her daughter’s Down syndrome and probable inability to testify in court.

“Possibly be retroactive for my daughter’s case, we’re not sure of that yet, but more importantly it’s going to be in effect for all future victims to come,” Billingsley said.

Billingsley says the bill affirms what she’s believed all along

“People with developmental disabilities are not to be taken advantage of, that they have rights just like the rest of us.”

She says watching the ceremonial signing was an emotional milestone.

“Just relieved; I pictured what my own daughter has recently gone through and I just have high hopes that justice will be served for her.”

The law will become effective in July. Seven other states including California and Florida have similar laws on their books.

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