Gov. Tom Corbett last week signed a piece of legislation that will finally allow expert
witness testimony in criminal sexual assault cases.
The move, spurred in part by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation trial that ended with a conviction last month against the former Penn State assistant football coach, means Pennsylvania will no longer be known as the only state left in the nation that wouldn’t allow experts to testify about a molestation or rape victim’s behavior following their assault.
The bill, H.B. 1264, had been sponsored by state Rep. Cherelle Parker, a Democratic legislator from Philadelphia.
Corbett ceremonially signed the bill into law during an event in Harrisburg on June 29.
The law goes into effect on Aug. 28.
“We need to acknowledge and understand the unique dynamics of this sort of crime,” Corbett said in prepared statements, according to a news release from the governor’s office. “This is a complex area with many shades of gray that require someone to explain to jurors why things unfolded the way they did.”
The law, which got the support of criminal justice advocates who argued that expert testimony is necessary to provide jurors with the proper context in which to evaluate a victim’s behavior, was signed into law at the Harrisburg YWCA’s Violence Intervention Prevention Program center, according to the governor’s office.
Aside from Rep. Parker, the others present at the bill signing included Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, as well as representatives from the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Office of Victim Advocate the Bucks County Child Advocacy Center, and the Network of Victim Assistance.
According to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Parker had worked on getting her proposed legislation passed into law for six years, but it wasn’t until the Penn State sex-abuse scandal unfolded that the bill gained traction.
“It took these unfortunate instances to allow Pennsylvanians to know how antiquated and archaic our laws on this issue have been,” Parker said at the ceremony, according to the newspaper.
Corbett, the paper reported, said: “If there is a positive side to what happened (in the Sandusky case), this is one of those positives for what happened. It brought it to the attention of the public.”
Sandusky, 68, was found guilty late last month on 45 of the 48 counts of child sex-abuse against him following a two-week jury trial in Bellefonte, Pa.
He was convicted of sexually molesting 10 young boys over a 15-year time period.
Sandusky is currently housed at the Centre County jail awaiting sentencing. He faces hundreds of years behind bars for his crimes.