AG supports protection of child victims testifying in court

LANSING--Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced the filing of an amicus brief to protect the rights of child crime victims who testify in court. The brief, filed in support of Allegan County Prosecutor Frederick Anderson, supports the prosecutor's request and the trial court's decision to allow an eight-year-old child rape victim to testify with a one-way screen between the witness stand and the table where the defendant was seated. The screen allowed everyone in the courtroom -- including the defendant, defense counsel, the judge and the jury -- to see the child victim, but shielded the victim from seeing the defendant. The screen's use allowed testimony by the child, while at the same time protecting the child from re-victimization through the trauma of witnessing her accused rapist in court.

The use of the screen is now being challenged by the defendant, Ronald Carl Rose, 27, who was ultimately convicted by an Allegan County jury on four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and two counts of disseminating sexually explicit matter to a minor. The conviction was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals on August 26, 2010, which rejected Rose's claims that the screen violated his right to confront the victim and the presumption of innocence. Rose then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, where Schuette has weighed in on the case.

"There is no constitutional right to stare down a child victim," said Schuette. "This is a commonsense step that protects the well-being of child victims while preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process."

In the amicus brief filed today, Schuette explains that U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Maryland v Craig permits the use of alternate trial procedures, such as closed-circuit television or a one-way screen during a child's testimony, as long as the State shows necessity. Schuette argues Rose's conviction should be upheld, and that the use of screens for minors be permitted to protect the well-being of child victims when deemed necessary by prosecutors and supported by a showing of potential trauma. Schuette also argues that the screen's use does not violate the presumption of innocence because it is not inherently prejudicial and is different from cases where courts have not permitted a defendant's shackling or wearing of prison-issue jumpsuits in front of a jury. Even if the screen was prejudicial, Schuette argues, the State has an essential interest in protecting child victims.

The Michigan Supreme Court has yet to set a date for oral argument in the case. Schuette will file a motion with the court requesting time for an attorney from his office to participate in oral arguments.

Since taking office, Schuette has prioritized efforts to defend Crime Victims' Rights in Michigan. In May 2011, Schuette appointed the first-ever Attorney General's Crime Victims' Advocate, who is working to uphold Schuette's commitment to protect the rights of crime victims in both policy and practice across the state.

Published: Fri, Jun 10, 2011