Closed Circuit Testimony in Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Cases

Testimony in Pennsylvania protection from abuse (PFA) cases is ordinarily in person, in court, with everyone present. Don't be shocked, though, if you arrive at court for your PFA hearing, expecting to see not only the spouse or other intimate partner who brought the case against you but also the children who are witnesses to or victims of your falsely alleged abuse, only to learn that the children will instead be testifying remotely by closed-circuit television. You may have hoped to see the children, smile at and wave to them, maybe even to get to speak to them to reassure them or, in the best case, to hug them. But a Pennsylvania statute permits the court to shelter children from the risk of mental and emotional distress from seeing their alleged abuser up close. And if the person bringing the PFA case against you has alleged your abuse, whether truthfully or falsely, a very good chance exists that you'll only see the child or children on video and that they won't see you. They'll be in another room, with the video feed going only one way from them to you.

Closed-circuit child testimony in Pennsylvania PFA cases can change the whole dynamic of a hearing. If you face a Pennsylvania PFA charge alleging abuse of or danger to a child or children, retain premier Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's PFA defense team. Don't let closed-circuit child testimony undermine your rights and contribute to an unwarranted PFA order that heavily burdens or even destroys your life.

How Pennsylvania's Closed Circuit Television Statute Works

The applicable statute 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 5985(a) plainly authorizes that “in any prosecution or adjudication involving a child victim or a child material witness, the court may order that the testimony of the child victim or child material witness be taken under oath or affirmation in a room other than the courtroom and transmitted by a contemporaneous alternative method.” A Pennsylvania PFA case, though civil in nature, is an “adjudication” within the closed-circuit television statute, meaning children may testify remotely. The statute defines what remote testimony entails. First, only the prosecutors and defense attorneys, court reporter, judge, and any necessary equipment operators, plus someone to reassure the child, may be in the room with the child during the testimony. The child must not see the defendant, meaning the defendant will be in another room. But the defendant must be able to both observe and hear the child's testimony, meaning that both audio and video must be streamed to the defendant's location. The court must also permit the defendant and defense attorney to communicate, which may involve frequent adjournments for consultation. Otherwise, the statute concludes, “Examination and cross-examination of the child … shall proceed in the same manner as normally permitted.” Your Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney will get to cross-examine the child or children. You just won't be there in person when it happens.

Challenging Closed Circuit Child Testimony

Closed-circuit child testimony isn't automatic in every PFA case. The statute 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 5985(a.1) instead provides that the court must first determine whether “testifying either in an open forum in the … defendant's presence will result in the child victim or child material witness suffering serious emotional distress that would substantially impair the child victim's or child material witness's ability to reasonably communicate.” In other words, if the defendant's presence isn't going to upset the child so much as to keep the child from testifying, the testimony shouldn't be by closed-circuit television. With your information, your retained Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney may be able to show the judge that video testimony is entirely unnecessary because the child loves and trusts you, or at least doesn't fear you so much as to be unable to communicate. The statute requires the court both to question the child and hear testimony from parents, guardians, custodians, or others who would know the child's experience and reaction. You'd probably much rather see the child or children in person and have them see you. If so, your testimony and the testimony of your other witnesses may help the court decide that video testimony is unnecessary.

Other Considerations

Being in the room with the testifying child can be far better for the PFA defendant. The defendant's presence, facial expression, and body language may remind and reassure the child, encouraging the child to speak truthfully, accurately, and positively about the defendant. The defendant also gets to read the child's body language and demeanor, while making it easier for the defendant to help the defendant's lawyer with the child's cross-examination. The defendant's being in the room with the testifying child, though, can communicate other important things non-verbally, like the defendant's sorrow, humility, love, care, and contrition. Having everyone in the courtroom together can influence not only the child but also the judge, as the judge watches how the defendant responds to the child and the child responds to the defendant. Indeed, having everyone in the courtroom together can also positively influence the plaintiff who filed the PFA case alleging abuse. The plaintiff may, for instance, feel remorse, foolishness, and regret over bringing a PFA case based on false or exaggerated allegations.

What to Do When Facing a Closed Circuit PFA Hearing

Above all, if you face a Pennsylvania PFA hearing of any kind, especially one that may involve a child or children testifying against you by closed-circuit television, be sure that you have the best available defense representation. Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients successfully defend PFA charges, preserving their access to the home and their relationships with children. Retain attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm‘s Pennsylvania family law team for your aggressive and effective PFA defense. Get the skilled and experienced help you need for the best outcome in your Pennsylvania protection from abuse case. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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