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Boscola Bulletin

New Laws to Further Protect & Support Crime Victims Have Been Passed

Gov. WolfIn June, a package of victims’ rights bills were passed by the General Assembly and sent to Governor Wolf’s desk for his signature – bills  to better ensure that Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system supports victims of crime. These new laws are going to better enable prosecutors to pursue justice by eliminating some of the obstacles that were  keeping victims from speaking up & telling their encounters and experiences.  These new laws also make necessary & imperative changes to how victims are protected. 

Act 21 (House Bill 315) – This act makes it a first-degree felony to cut or allow someone to circumcise or excise the genitals (genital mutilation) of a female minor.

Female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.  This is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights of girls and women, and reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.  Pennsylvania ranks 11th in the nation, with more than 19,000 women at risk for this procedure, 6,000 of them under the age of 18. 

Act 23 (House Bill 502) – The act strengthens the right of crime victims to attend court proceedings. 

Victims are not always allowed to attend the entirety of criminal trials.  This act helps to address this by amending the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act of 1984 to bring it in line with federal law to ensure that a victim’s rights are protected. 

Act 24 (House Bill 504) – This act prevents the introduction of a victim’s past sexual victimization or allegations to be used in a criminal proceeding. 

Often, a history of abuse has been used at trial to discredit an alleged victim.  An example would be the defense seeking to use evidence of a past sexual assault to the victim to claim the individual puts him/herself at risk intentionally or to allege outsized sensitivity to innocuous actions because of a history of abuse.

Act 29 (Senate Bill 399) – The act creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault with the intention to reflect the federal Survivor’s Bill of Rights that was signed into law in 2016.

The following rights have been added to the statute’s current list of rights:

Medical forensic examination free of charge;

  • A sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved without charge for the duration of the maximum applicable statute of limitations and to be informed in writing of policies governing the collection/preservation of such kits;
  • Upon written request, to receive written notification no later than 60 days before the destruction of the sexual assault evidence collection kit;
  • To consult with a sexual assault counselor;
  • To receive information concerning availability of protective orders and policies related to the enforcement of protective orders;
  • To receive information concerning the availability of, and eligibility for, victim compensation and restitution; and 
  • To receive information of the rights of sexual assault victims. 

Act 30 (Senate Bill 469) – This act applies the state’s existing “tender years exception” to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism. 

Prior to the changes made by this bill, the exception allowed for the admission of an out-of-court statement, sometimes referred to as a hearsay, made by a child under the age of 12 due to the fragile nature of young victims of abuse. 

Act 31 (Senate Bill 479) – The act further expands the “tender years exception” to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including:

  • Chapter 25 (relating to criminal homicide)
  • Chapter 27 (relating to assault)
  • Chapter 29 (relating to kidnapping)
  • Chapter 30 (relating to human trafficking)
  • Chapter 31 (relating to sexual offenses)
  • Chapter 35 (relating to burglary and other criminal intrusion)
  • Chapter 37 (relating to robbery)
  • Section 4302 (relating to incest)
  • Section 4304 (relating to endangering welfare of children) if the offense involved sexual contact with the victim
  • Section 6301(a)(1)(ii) (relating to corruption of minors)
  • Section 6312(b) (relating to sexual abuse of children)
  • Section 6318 (relating to unlawful contact with minor)
  • Section 6320 (relating to sexual exploitation of children)

Before the passage of this bill, the exception had only applied in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses. 

Marsy's LawA seventh victims’ rights bill that won the General Assembly approval but did not make its way to the Governor’s desk, but instead will be on the November ballot for voters to act upon, is near and dear to me – it is a joint resolution for an amendment to the state Constitution amending Article I by adding “Rights of Victims of Crime” – known as “Marsy’s Law”. This bill originated from an issue that had taken place in California when one week after her 17-year-old daughter Marsy was murdered by an ex-boyfriend, Marcella Leach stopped at a grocery store on the way home from her daughter’s funeral and saw Marsy’s alleged murderer - the individual had posted $100,000 bail just days earlier and was now free to walk the streets of his California hometown. That encounter set in motion a nationwide victims’ rights movement that has changed constitutions in six states.

I am emphatic and empathetic when fighting for these victims and their families – check out my floor speech on Marsy’s Law – making it crystal clear that victims voices must be heard in a criminal proceeding.

Sen. Boscola’s Marsy’s Law Floor Remarks

Sen. Boscola Deliveres Floor Remarks on Marsy's Law

The Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania campaign aims to amend the state Constitution to ensure justice and due process for crime victims through each step of the criminal justice system.  House Bill 276 provides for the following:

  • To be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy;
  • To have victim’s safety considered in fixing bail and release conditions;
  • Reasonable and timely notice and ability to be present at all public proceedings;
  • Notification of pretrial disposition of the case;
  • To be heard in any proceeding where a right of the victim is implicated, except before a grand jury;
  • Notification of all parole procedures and participation in the parole process;
  • Reasonable protection from the accused or those acting on their behalf;
  • Reasonable notice of release or escape of the accused;
  • To refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request made by the accused;
  • Full and timely restitution upon conviction;
  • Prompt return of property no longer deemed evidence;
  • To proceedings free of unreasonable delay and prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related postconviction proceedings;
  • To confer with the attorney for the government; and,
  • To be informed of all rights enumerated under this section.

Senator Lisa Boscola receives Marsy's Law AwardRecently, I was proudly awarded the "Guardian of Victims' Rights Award” by Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania for being a vocal champion for victims of crime and their families. I would like to thank Madison Scarfaro for her tireless advocacy across this Commonwealth – it was an honor to meet with you. 

House Bill 276 won the legislature’s approval for a second-straight legislative session. In order to be added to the state Constitution, amendments must first be passed by the House and the Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions, which it has, and then be voted on favorably as a referendum question.  Therefore, Marsy’s Law will be on the ballot for the state’s voters to decide in the upcoming November General Election. 

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Offices of State Senator Lisa M. Boscola

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