Senate Bill 603 Introduced to Prevent Defendants from Cross-Examining their Victims

The Senate Committee on Public Safety recently held a hearing at the end of April on Sen. Ben Hueso (D- San Diego) and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office’s proposed bill.  Senate Bill 603, which is currently making its rounds through the California legislative process in Sacramento, would require a court to conduct a hearing in cases in which the defendant is acting as his own attorney to determine whether someone else, most likely a standby lawyer, should be appointed to question the victims. Under SB 603, a judge would have to determine whether the victim would be traumatized further by being cross examined by the defendant. That kind of finding would be allowed only in certain kinds of cases, such as rape and sexual assault, as well as in felony charges of stalking, domestic violence, elder abuse or child abuse.

The sponsored bill was prompted by a San Diego woman named Jessica.  Jessica says she was traumatized for the second time when the man who sexually assaulted her questioned her in court. The attack happened near the Old Town bus station back in March 2013. Jessica said a man dragged her behind a cafe and assaulted her.  He chose to represent himself (pro se) during his trial.

Constitutional Concerns

Because every defendant has a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause to confront their witness (and therefore cross-examine them in trial), this bill obviously does not come without controversy.  The ACLU has come out in opposition to it because it potentially violates a defendant’s Fifth (the right to a fair trial) and Sixth Amendment rights.  “It signals to the jury: that’s because he’s guilty,” the organization stated in a statement. To further complicate things, the California voters passed the Marsy’s Law (aka “victim’s bill of rights”) in 2008, which states that crime victims have the right to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse, and to be reasonably protected from the defendant or anyone acting on behalf of the defendant.

While there are clear concerns over the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, it is still not recommended that you represent yourself in trial.  Charges of rape, stalking, sexual assault, and child abuse are serious offenses.  These are all felony crimes with serious penalties.  For example, stalking alone carries a potential sentence of one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for a first offense. See Cal Pen Code § 646.9.  When you are facing such serious charges, it is important you hire someone who has the experience to fight these charges.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases including charges of rape, sexual assault, stalking, and abuse.  We are dedicated to protecting your rights through each step of your case.  If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact attorney David Boertje today for a free consultation.