On Wednesday, the Missouri House passed a bill establishing a "Children’s Bill of Courtroom Rights." The bill outlines the rights of minors testifying in courtroom proceedings, including the right to a stuffed animal and a nap (I’m not making this up). Florida recently passed a bill allowing children to bring their pets to court as a "comfort item."
Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw a fit (or should we say tantrum?) about how this is an example of interest-group politics. I realize these are children, and it’s terrible that children should have to be witnesses in the first place. The courts should be as protective as possible for the children under their care.
But there are problems with the bill, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed them (in fact, the bill passed amid major opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike). Legislation like this, although well-intentioned, is dangerously broad.
It allows 17-year-olds tried as minors (with slick defense attorneys) to exploit child protection provisions. And it also sets a precedent for additional "courtroom rights" legislation, bogging down and undermining the judicial system.
In short, do we really need this legislation? Aren’t things like this better handled on a case-by-case basis? Are there really judges out there that would prevent 6-year-old children from holding teddy bears if they wanted to when testifying?
Even lawyers aren’t that heartless … 🙂