Making it easier for tourist crime victims to testify

Conducting courtroom testimonies via video conference does happen in certain situations, but it might become standard practice for visitors who are victims of property theft.

A plan is in the works to change the law for tourists who are unable to travel back to Hawaii.

“This has been a really vexing problem,” said Kauai County prosecuting attorney Justin Kollar. “For them to want to follow up with a court case or criminal trial that could happen six months to a year or two down the road, it’s very difficult.”

A proposed amendment would allow victims to testify through a video conference in the courtroom.

“They would still be subject to the cross examination by the defense attorney, but they would be able to testify from home or their home state,” explained Kauai County council member Mel Rapozo.

“In so many of these cases, all we need the victims to testify to are these very limited circumstances and to have them fly back here thousands of miles to be on the witness stand, it just doesn’t make sense,” said Kollar.

The cost of flying someone out to testify can be costly and this new amendment would save the state money and help tourists.

“This proposed law would actually streamline that process and enable us to achieve more justice for more victims,” said Kollar.

But there are a few issues that some say could pose a problem if the change is passed.

“It seems like a good idea, but it’s not the same as having a body in court,” said defense attorney Victor Bakke. “The constitution requires that a person accused of a crime has to have the ability to physically and personally confront his accusers, which would be the witness or the victims of the crime.”

The amendment has been approved by all four counties and will be reviewed in the next legislative session, where those who support the change hope it is signed.

“We’ve researched the constitution issues and are confident that this would survive scrutiny at the next level,” said Kollar.

“It could probably be passed through because it makes common sense, but it doesn’t really pass constitutional muster,” said Bakke.

The amendment would apply statewide if approved, but was pushed for by lawmakers in Kauai.

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