In November 2010 a young woman who said she was fearful of reliving her childhood trauma in court threatened to jump off the roof of the King County Courthouse.
Now a new bill sponsored by Representative Roger Goodman (D-Seattle) seeks to prevent defendants who have waived their right to an attorney from directly cross-examining their alleged victims.
"Sexual assault cases [are different from others] in that the victim is the only person who can testify reliably," Goodman said. "Extra protection is needed in that case."
A hearing was held Jan. 12 for House Bill 1001.
Rep. Goodman said the bill has received considerable support so far, including among jurors in the November case, who came forward to tell him of the anguish they witnessed in the courtroom.
Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, who was present at the hearing, said testifying against one's attacker can be intimidating and the bill would make it easier.
"It's very difficult for victims to testify in court in general and when the offender is representing himself, even more so. It will give some protection, give the judges some parameters."
For example, the bill would enable judges to tell the defendant to stay seated, or not to approach the victim, or to use the standby counsel for asking the questions, Stone said.
The idea isn't new. Similar legislation was introduced last session by former representative Brendan Williams (D-Olympia).
Opponents argued that it violates the 6th Amendment, infringing upon a defendant's right to confront the accuser. To address the topic of constitutionality, Goodman's office met with Williams and members of the Supreme Court.
While the recent incident at the King County Courthouse highlighted the issue, said Max Patashnik, an aide to Rep. Goodman, the bill is a response to a longstanding problem.