ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
These two bills expand Pennsylvania's Tender Years Hearsay Act, a hearsay exception that allows out-of-court statements made by individuals 12 years of age or younger to be entered into evidence under specific conditions.
HB 503 P.N. 491 (Everett): HB 503 creates a new hearsay exception that would allow out-of-court statements from victims or witnesses diagnosed with an intellectual disability or autism to be admissible as evidence in criminal or civil trials. And then HB 503 explicitly removes any age restrictions to this exception – a striking and sweeping extension of this exception. Children twelve years and younger with an intellectual disability or autism would already be covered under the existing Tender Years exception. HB 503 does not offer those children any new protections. Instead, the bill extends well beyond the “tender years” to apply to everyone who meets the criteria, regardless of age. As a result, this exception would no longer be properly termed “tender years,” as it would eliminate the age limitation and would undermine the fundamental rationale for providing such exceptions to hearsay testimony in the first place.
HB 505 P.N. 493 (Kauffman): Current law already permits a court, in a criminal or civil proceeding, to admit into evidence an out-of-court statement of a child victim or witness for all crimes enumerated under each of the following types of offenses: criminal homicide; assault; kidnapping; sexual offenses; burglary and other criminal intrusion; and robbery. HB 505 would significantly expand the list of offenses for which hearsay statements may be admitted.