Protecting Child Victims in the California Criminal Justice Process

Children who have undergone a traumatic experience may need additional safe guarding while their abuser is brought to justice

Protecting Child Victims in the California Criminal Justice Process

As a society, we understand that children are particularly vulnerable. Too often, the people who are entrusted to protect children exploit that vulnerability. Kids who have experienced abuse or otherwise are victims of crime are then thrust into the criminal justice system — where they may be re-traumatized.

When the victim in a criminal proceeding is a child, there are issues that may arise that wouldn’t necessarily be part of a case involving an adult victim. For example, the overwhelming majority of children who are sexually abused know their abuser. According to RAINN, 93% of child victims know their perpetrators. 59% of these abusers are acquaintances, such as a teacher or a coach, and 34% are family members. In these situations, a child victim may have an emotional attachment to their abuser, and they may be threatened or intimidated by their abuser or family. These same children may be afraid to testify against a loved one who has abused them. At the same time, criminal proceedings may trigger a child protective services investigation — throwing the child’s life into upheaval in another way.

An Irvine victims’ rights attorney can work to protect a child in these types of cases. Just like adult victims, children who are victims of crime in California are entitled to certain protections. However, most of these protections are not automatic. Unless someone — like a victims’ rights lawyer — advocates on behalf of a child, they may not receive the benefit of these laws.

For example, under California law, any victim of a crime under the age of 16 has the right to request that the public be excluded from the courtroom when they testify. Other accommodations may be made to help a child who is afraid to testify or who otherwise needs protection. For example, a seasoned Irvine victims’ rights attorney may request that a therapy dog be allowed to go into court with a child victim to calm them and provide them with emotional support. Alternatively, a child may be able to testify remotely via closed circuit television, so that they do not have to sit in front of their abuser and testify about what happened to them. This arrangement has been approved by the United States Supreme Court. However, unless an advocate specifically requests this type of accommodation, the child may not receive it.

A skilled Irvine victims’ rights attorney can protect children who are victims of crime in a number of other ways. This may include:

  • Requesting that a victim be allowed to testify from behind a witness screen;
  • Asking that a support person be in the courtroom with the child during their testimony;
  • Requesting a postponement of testimony to accommodate the physical, metal or emotional needs of a child aged 10 or younger;
  • Asking for the use of room in the courthouse for a nonthreatening environment for a child under the age of 16; and
  • Protecting the confidentiality of certain records;
  • Requesting periods of relief from testimony for child victims of certain crimes who are under the age of 11.

All of these laws are intended to ensure that children are not re-traumatized by the process of testifying. Each may be critical in helping a child testify accurately without being harmed by the system itself.

Attorney Michael L. Fell is a former prosecutor who has now devoted his career to helping victims of crimes in California. He knows how the criminal justice process works — and what rights crime victims are entitled to under the law.

Justice 4 Crime Victims is dedicated to helping crime victims — including children — achieve justice by asserting their constitutional and legal rights throughout the process. We aggressively advocate for each of our clients, fighting to make sure that they are heard and that their rights are asserted. Contact us today at 949-585-9055 or to schedule a free initial consultation with an Irvine victims’ rights attorney.