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February 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

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House passes bill that limits questioning by pro se defendants

Posted by Queenie Wong

A bill that could prevent sex-crime defendants who represent themselves from directly questioning their accusers in court passed the House Tuesday and is now on its way to the Senate.

The bill, HB 1001, requests the state Supreme Court adopt rules by the end of July that would limit how pro se defendants accused of sex offenses cross-examine their accusers. It passed the House 92-0.

Kirkland Democrat Rep. Roger Goodman, the lead sponsor of the bill, said on the floor that he decided to introduce the legislation after a recent incident in which a 21-year-old woman threatened to jump off the King County Court House rather than face questioning by the man charged with raping her. She was led to safety after talking with Seattle police negotiators.

Under the bill, the court could restrict the manner and means a pro se defendant questions his accuser in court if it found the victim would suffer serious emotional or mental distress from the cross-examination. The bill would only apply to cases where the pro se defendant is accused of a sex offense.

The pro se defendant would have several options, including having a court-approved individual cross-examine the accuser using the defendant's questions, asking the questions himself while seated a distance away from the victim or conducting the questioning from another room via video hookup.

Criminal-defense lawyer groups, opposed to the bill, argue that it violates the defendant’s right to self-representation under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The bill will likely face a hurdle in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, who chairs the committee, said earlier that he believes the bill isn’t necessary because judges already have the authority to limit a defendant’s questioning.

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