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For immediate release – Thursday, December 27, 2007.
Contact Bob Brammer – 515-281-6699.

State asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review Iowa Court Ruling in State v. James Bentley

Statement of the Attorney General’s Office:

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Iowa Supreme Court decision in State v. James Bentley.

James Bentley is charged with sexual abuse in the second degree in both Linn and Benton Counties for allegedly engaging in sex acts with a child under the age of 12. The child is not available to testify against James Bentley because she was murdered by his brother Roger Bentley.

In a pre-trial evidentiary ruling, the district court excluded from evidence a videotaped interview of the alleged victim taken at the Child Protection Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. The Iowa Supreme Court decision upheld the district court ruling, finding that offering the child’s statements would violate Bentley’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.

Attorney General Tom Miller said: “We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision and to provide guidance on when a child’s earlier statements may be offered into evidence without violating the defendant’s confrontation rights.”

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision Crawford v. Washington, which dramatically changed how confrontation clause questions are decided. Since that decision, different state courts across the country have reached varied conclusions regarding the admissibility of children’s reports of abuse in prosecutions where the children are not available to testify in court.

The “petition for writ of certiorari” asks the Supreme Court to clarify how that new test should be applied to children’s reports of abuse. The question is important to the operation of Child Protection Centers, which use a multi-disciplinary approach to providing services to abused children. Children who report abuse frequently cannot testify in court because they are not competent witnesses or they are emotionally or otherwise unavailable. In such cases, prosecutors are left to prosecute the perpetrator without the in-court testimony of the child victim.

The National District Attorney Association/American Prosecutors’ Research Institute (NDAA/APRI), the Middleton Children’s Center at Drake University, and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) plan to file “friend-of-the-court” or amicus statements in support of the Attorney General’s position.

The petition was filed Wednesday.

The Attorney General expects the Court to decide by February or March whether to take the case.