The Pennsylvania State Senate recently approved Bill 1170, which allows expert witnesses to testify in court cases that involve domestic violence and human trafficking. The hope is that the expert witnesses will give a clearer picture of the crime and show how it affects victims, providing more justice for the victim. As of now, the state only allows expert witnesses to testify in sexual violence cases about the acts of the crime, the victim's reaction, and the crime's impact on the victim during and after the attack. This change in legislation comes from a need to curb domestic violence and human trafficking in Pennsylvania. In fact, in the last ten years, over 1,600 people have died from incidents that arose out of domestic violence, and in 2018 over 275 cases of human trafficking were reported.
Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Defined According to Pennsylvania Law
Domestic violence is categorized as knowingly and intentionally or recklessly causing bodily injury, the fear of bodily injury, assault, sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, or stalking a person so that they fear you will cause them bodily injury. But to qualify as domestic abuse, they should take place between family members, people who live in the same home, sexual partners, or people who share biological parenthood. (Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 23, Sections 6102 and 6113.)
Human trafficking is defined as "a crime where people profit from the exploitation of children, adolescents, and adults."
What This Means for Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Cases
Usually, an expert witness is hired by either side of a court case to explain complicated issues – like the effectiveness of a particular model of bank vault door when the subject is a bank heist or how to use DNA evidence to identify a specific defendant. These explanations are supposed to be unbiased, neither for nor against either side (although of course the side that is offering the expert witness hopes that the expert witness' testimony would sway the judge or jury in its favor).
Bill 1170 would allow an expert witness to express how domestic abuse or human trafficking affected the victim personally. The bill will still call for an expert witness to give an unbiased opinion – they will be speaking objectively about how the issue at hand has affected the victim. The testimony will thus help the court decide on the legitimacy of the case and the severity of the punishment. But unnecessary testimony can harm your defense by allowing the court to place blame based on feeling instead of fact. What if the victim misconstrued the experience or had a mental condition that made it harder for them to understand what was happening? Superfluous testimony can impede the fairness of your defense.
How a Criminal Attorney Can Help
If you or someone close to you has been charged with domestic violence, you may be wondering how this new bill will affect your case. Having the guidance of an experienced criminal attorney is imperative. From the moment you are arrested, whether you committed the crime or not, you are under a tough microscope, and the prosecution can use every word you say against you during the trial. A great attorney can help mitigate your charges at the start and build a solid defense to ensure you are not wrongfully convicted.
It's important to remember that you are entitled to a good defense whether or not you did commit the crime. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a skilled criminal attorney with years of experience working with individuals accused of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. He will work tirelessly to ensure your rights are upheld and mitigate any unnecessary and potentially unfair expert witness testimony against you. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today. Don't let Bill 1170 negatively affect your case.