Bills to Boost Victims’ Rights — with Support from Manion — set to Become Law

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) is highlighting two KCPAO-backed bills — both aimed at improving the rights of crime victims and particularly victims of gender-based violence — which are set to become law pending approval from Governor Inslee.

“These policies offer new tools and protections for victims of gender-based violence and all crime victims,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion. “My team has seen firsthand too many experiences of crime victims who feel disenfranchised and unheard in the criminal justice system. Whether it’s ensuring the right to virtual hearings or expanding access to protection orders, these provisions represent the KCPAO’s commitment to uplifting victims’ voices, protecting their rights, and fighting for justice on their behalf whenever and however we can.”

SB 5937, which unanimously passed both chambers, includes two provisions that King County Prosecutors fought to include:

  • The first change will ensure rape and trafficking victims’ right to pre-trial hearings when they potentially face allegations that their past sexual behavior is relevant to their consent. This provision, which updates RCW 9A.44.020 (commonly known as the Rape Shield Statute), will protect victims, including victims of gender-based violence, from being blindsided during trial with potentially traumatizing accusations about their character and past behavior. Additionally, the victim, victim’s attorney, or a lawful representative of the victim will be able to assert and seek enforcement of the procedures under the rape shield statute.
  • The second change gives crime victims the right to participate in hearings remotely under RCW 7.69.030 (known as the Crime Victims Bill of Rights) in jurisdictions where resources are available. Virtually participating in hearings can both make the criminal justice system more accessible for victims as well as increase victims’ sense of safety given that they can remain physically distant from their abusers.

SB 6227, which passed the Senate 49–0 and the House 92–3, gives victims access to protection orders in certain circumstances in which a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity. Specifically, courts will be allowed to issue a no-contact order to protect a victim when a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed by the court to a period of inpatient treatment or conditional release, or at any subsequent time when the person is under court supervision. This change will close a gap in current law, which left victims with few options when their abusers were found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabrielle Charlton, and Victim Advocate, David Talley, testified in support of SB 6277 on January 23, 2024. During their testimony, Talley shared a letter from a domestic violence survivor he worked with who would have benefitted from this law. You can watch Charlton and Talley’s full testimony HERE.

Shortly after taking office, King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion announced the creation of a new division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office focused on gender-based violence and prevention. At the time of the announcement, Manion said, “the purpose of this new division is to elevate and improve our office’s response to gender-based violence. This division will bring a trauma-informed, victim-centered response to these cases.” The division includes multiple criminal practice areas involving in gender-based violence prosecution including — the Domestic Violence Unit, the Sexually Violent Predator Unit, Special Assault Units that handle sex crimes, and commercial sexual exploitation (trafficking), among other practices.