Three adults told a Washington State jury how a 5-year-old girl had described being raped by her parents. The parents’ 1991 convictions were overturned, and other cases across the state are in question after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year put new limits on who can testify when the person making the accusations won’t or can’t, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Washington State case, before the state Supreme Court next month, could shape the way Washington prosecutes many sensitive cases, including sexual assaults against children, domestic violence and crimes against the elderly.
Prosecutors argue that the new rules about hearsay testimony shouldn’t apply to old cases. A decision otherwise would “open the floodgates for any kind of challenge” from other convicted criminals across the state, Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan said. At issue is the conflict between hearsay testimony and a person’s constitutional right to face an accuser. Witnesses are often not allowed to testify about what someone else told them because it may not be true, and it doesn’t give the suspect a chance to question the person who said it. There have been exceptions, including one in Washington law that would let juries hear what a child told someone about an alleged sexual assault without the child having to take the witness stand. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, witnesses can’t testify about what someone else told them if that statement was “testimonial” — a word that promises to be debated for years to come — unless the suspect has the chance to cross-examine the person who made it.