DA Torrez to propose change in law that he claims will protect child victims
September 18, 2019 06:28 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez is calling for a change in New Mexico law in order to protect children.
Torrez said cases involving child victims sometimes fall apart because they are forced to re-live their trauma.
Torrez doesn’t believe children should be forced to re-tell their story over and over.
He wants lawmakers to change the law so a recorded “safe house interview” can be shown to a jury in place of a young victim testifying on the witness stand.
“In almost every other state that surrounds us and in federal courts, those interviews are allowed to be presented to the jury,” Torrez said. “In New Mexico, they are often not.”
Michelle Gurule's daughter was forced to speak with defense attorneys and testify after she was attacked, despite telling her story to a licensed child therapist in a recorded “safe house interview.”
Gurule said her daughter felt re-traumatized by the attorneys.
“She felt harassed. She felt like they were calling her a liar,” Gurule said. “She didn't want to talk anymore because they were always in her face or changing the story on her or saying she was lying because stuff at school was happening.”
A jury ultimately did not convict the alleged attacker.
“We were going to do a second trial, but she couldn't do it,” Gurule said. “She was just falling apart and I've seen her fall apart right before my eyes.”
Torrez said the break down in cases against alleged child predators happens too often in New Mexico.
“Think about the harm that is inflicted,” he said. “You shouldn't look at a 7-year-old girl or a rape victim and say, ‘In order to find justice in the system, you have to endure not only the trauma of the crime committed against you, but multiple interviews with you just to get yourself to court and then you have to testify all over again.’”
Torrez knows changing the law will come with a fight-- especially from defense attorneys.
“Part of the problem with that is-- it presumes that the statement that was initially made was very thorough, very accurate and that you really get the whole picture,” said defense attorney Heather LaBlanc.
LaBlanc doesn’t believe “safe house interviews” are truth-seeking interviews. She believes it's the role of attorneys to flush out all the facts to find the real truth. She believes interviewing children is part of that process.
“When we talk about criminal justice, there is no justice without truth,” LaBlanc said. “We can't have justice without truth. And we can't start sacrificing those important steps in the process.”
Anticipating a challenge, Torrez plans on presenting his idea at a conference with out-of-state prosecutors Thursday.
He said he will then work with state lawmakers to file a bill that can be debated during the 2020 legislative session.
Updated: September 18, 2019 06:28 PM
Created: September 18, 2019 06:22 PM
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