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Compromise gets child sexual assault victims deposition bill across the finish line

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Rep. Taylor Yarkosky

Rep. Taylor Yarkosky

The Legislature has signed off on a compromise bill that supporters say would create “guardrails” to protect child rape victims from criminal defense depositions.

The Senate voted 36-4 on the penultimate day of session to send HB 667 to the governor.

Rep. Taylor Yarkosky, R-Clermont, told the House his bill would spare the most vulnerable victims further trauma.

“We believe that child sexual assault victims deserve special treatment,” Yarkosky said. “I believe we absolutely got it right.”

Critics, including the Criminal Law Section, the Florida Public Defender Association, and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, were less effusive.

“This is my fifth year in the Florida House, and I have yet to find a perfect product,” said Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Plantation.

Rep. Mike Gottlieb

Rep. Mike Gottlieb

Gottlieb, a criminal defense attorney, was an early critic, but he said he could support the compromise.

“I will tell you, as a father, and as someone who wants to see children protected, I think this bill does a good job,” Gottlieb said.

Yarkosky added an amendment shortly before the House voted 112-0 to send it to the Senate for final approval.

The previous version of the bill would have barred criminal defense attorneys from deposing minor victims, and any victim with a developmental disability, absent a showing of good cause.

Critics warned that depositions resolve cases quickly, and can spare victims the trauma testifying in open court.

Defense depositions became even more important last week, critics argued, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that makes sexual battery of a person younger than 12 punishable by death. Many critics doubt the bill would survive a constitutional challenge.

“Of course, I want to protect victims of sexual violence, but I can’t forget all of the people who are wrongly accused,” said Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Tamarac.

HB 667, as amended, creates a legal presumption that it is not appropriate to depose a victim of a sexual offense who is younger than 12, if the state is not seeking the death penalty, and a “forensic interview” is already available.

In cases where a victim is younger than 16, the bill would require the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether a deposition is appropriate.

Judges would be required to weigh such things as the mental and physical age and maturity of the victim, the nature and duration of the offense, the relationship of the victim to the defendant, and whether the evidence is “reasonably” available by other means. If they approve, courts would be authorized to set strict conditions for limiting the depositions.

“In these cases, we’re putting this in the hands of the judge to make the determination,” Yarkosky said. “This is the result of a lot of collaboration.”

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