Reforming Child Testimony in New Mexico
In 2021, Eliza Sultan related to Indivisible SOS a distressing account of how her two children, then ages four and seven years, were forced to testify in open court in New Mexico in a criminal proceeding against their father for allegedly abusing them sexually.
Eliza was told by the District Attorney that her children had to confront their father in court because the State of New Mexico had not adopted the Uniform Child Witness Protective Measures Act (the “Act”).
After failing to get corrective legislation out of the NM Senate Judiciary Committee in 2021, we discovered that the Act has actually been in effect for more than a decade. But because the law allows the New Mexico Supreme Court to adopt rules of procedure and evidence to implement this Act, and the Supreme Court had not yet done so, prosecutors were reluctant to use it.
We have encouraged the NM Supreme Court to draft and adopt the rules of procedure and evidence to no avail. Before the 2023 legislative session, New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez took an interest in amending the act to better protect children. In addition, representatives Meredith A. Dixon, Tara Jaramillo, Jason Harper and Andrea Reeb introduced an excellent Bill (HB 173) that substitutes a “forensic interview” of child witnesses by a specially trained professional in lieu of multiple pretrial interviews by law enforcement, attorneys, and psychologists in order to limit traumatization and intimidation.
HB 173 was approved by the NM House of Representatives in 2023, but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We are assembling a coalition to urge the governor to put HB 173 on her 2024 calendar and to convince the Senate Judiciary Committee to schedule it for a hearing.
Urge your representative and senator to support HB 173.