New law helps child witnesses

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A bill signed into law this week in Mississippi is designed to ease the stress testifying in court for children.

Effective July 1, House Bill 959 is aimed at relaxing the formality of the proceedings and increasing protections for children making a court appearance.

Rep. Nick Bain (D-Corinth) was a conferee on the bill after filing a previous bill that was combined with another to become HB 959. The Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi approached him about the cause after his support of the Andrew Loyd bill.

“This came about as the result of a case in which a child was intimidated,” he said.

A district attorney’s victim advocate contacted the advocacy centers about the case.

The advocate “said that this child was bullied his whole life by other kids, and then in court, he was bullied throughout the trial by the failures of the court system,” said Karla Steckler Tye, executive director of the advocacy centers. “I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Research has shown that the high level of stress and anxiety experienced by child witnesses can decrease children’s ability and willingness to provide complete and accurate evidence, according to the advocacy centers.

The legislation passed with unanimous votes. With the new law, children will be able to bring a comforting item such as a toy or blanket with them to court. It also modifies the oath language to be more youth-friendly, asking children to promise to tell the truth rather than to swear to tell the truth.

The new law will also allow a child-friendly waiting area and use of closed-circuit television. It also adds protection of some identifying information.

By Jebb Johnston for the Daily Corinthian

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