Pennsylvanians sitting on juries soon might have access to expert witnesses who can help them understand the factors that influence how a sexual assault victim responds after being attacked.
During the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial, a number of national legal analysts noted that Pennsylvania is the only state that prohibits expert witnesses from testifying in court in sexual assault cases.
Some believe such testimony can help jurors understand why alleged victims reacted the way the did.
A bill heading to Gov. Tom Corbett's desk will change that. Under House Bill 1264, the prosecution and defense could seek expert testimony in a sexual assault case.
"If qualified as an expert, the witness may testify to facts and opinions regarding specific types of victim response responses and victim behaviors," the measure reads.
The witness could not be allowed to offer opinions on the credibility on other witnesses.
In the Sandusky case, some questioned why the now-accusers failed to speak out when the attacks allegedly occurred and remained in contact with the former Penn State assistant coach.
Expert witnesses could have provided insight into those actions based on what they have learned from other cases.
As former sex crimes prosecutor Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, said in a press release, "It can be traumatic for children to step forward. Expert testimony as to why there would be a delay between the crime and the reporting of it will prove immeasurably helpful to jurors as they seek the truth in these difficult cases."
HB 1264 will take effect 60 days after Corbett signs the measure, which he should do quickly.
Juries need to have access to information, and expert witnesses on the dynamics of sexual assault can provide valuable insight in the search for justice.