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W.Va. Senate Passes Bill Protecting Sexual Assault Victims From Submitting To Court-Ordered Exams

Will Price
West Virginia Legislative Photography
In this 2018 file photo, Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, explains a bill on the floor.

The West Virginia Senate passed a bill that protects victims of sexual assault and rape from being required to submit to certain physical exams. Senate Bill 125 cleared the upper chamber Tuesday on a 33-0 vote.

The measure would prevent a court from ordering a victim of sexual assault from submitting to a medical examination evaluating the reported assault. Additionally, a victim’s refusal to submit to such examinations could also not be used as a basis to exclude evidence gathered from other relevant examinations of the victim.

Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, explained the bill on the floor. 

Trump said the bill only applies to criminal cases and is in response to a 2009 state Supreme Court decision.  In an earlier court ruling by the Mercer County Circuit Court, a minor was ordered to undergo a physical examination following a sexual assault.

The minor, identified as J.W., was ordered by the court — at the request of the alleged suspect’s defense — to undergo the examination.

The state’s high court affirmed Mercer County Circuit Court Judge David Knight’s decision to order the physical examination. Senate Bill 125 would essentially nullify the Supreme Court’s decision. 

“A court's jurisdiction in my opinion to enter such an order is suspect, anyway. In a criminal case the victim is not a party before the court. In a criminal case the parties are the state — the people of West Virginia — and a defendant, one or more defendants,” Trump said. “And, so, for a court to exercise authority to order a victim, in this case —  the J.W. case — a minor victim, to undergo an intrusive examination at the request of a defendant is offensive.”

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, also called for passage of the bill. He referenced the West Virginia Supreme Court decision, calling that decision "onerous."

Woelfel also said defedendants' counsel calling for such examinations are often attempts to get victims to drop cases. 

“The decision that we are essentially overturning here has served as a deterrent for our victims of sexual assault," Woelfel said  

Senate Bill 125 now heads to the House of Delegates for consideration.

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