Kansas legislators take second crack at bill banning psychological evaluations for crime victims

By: - February 17, 2021 1:46 pm

Todd Thompson, of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, asked legislators on the Senate Judiciary Committee to imagine being forced to take a psychological evaluation just to prove your testimony isn’t some imagined scenario. He said the law supporting this practice should be struck down. (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Sexual assault and crime victim advocates are pushing Kansas lawmakers to strike an “archaic” and “misogynistic” law allowing the ordering of psychiatric exams for victims of all crimes.

The rule in Kansas allowing the psychiatric or psychological examination of a witness stems from a 1979 Kansas Supreme Court case that relied on “outdated and false understandings of criminal sexual abuse,” said Todd Thompson, of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association.

“Imagine when you go and have to testify or tell the law enforcement, you are now required to do a psychiatric examination to show that you are not suffering some sort of mental condition that transforms into a fantasy or a wishful biological urge,” Thompson said.

A similar bill introduced last year targeted evaluations for only victims of sexual abuse, but legislators amended the measure to include victims of all crimes. It passed the Senate without opposition but died in a House committee, due in part to COVID-19.

Now, the bill in the amended form has been reintroduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, with hopes the outdated law will finally be struck from the statute. These ordered evaluations — still being requested by courts in Kansas today — can incite unnecessary trauma for the victim, Thompson said.

Thompson, a Leavenworth County attorney, described a case in his area involving a young girl required to take a psychological evaluation “just for coming forward.” He said it is already difficult enough for victims to share their experiences, let alone be forced to prove the confession is not just an overactive imagination at such a young age.

Thompson noted that in testimony on the bill last year, Kim Parker, coordinating prosecutor for the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, said the practice is not supported by any valid evidential testing.

He also quoted from Parker’s testimony: “The veracity of a sexual assault victim should be subject to the same test of all victims. Solid investigations, a prosecutor’s careful review of the facts, thorough cross-examination and the determination by a court or jury as to the credibility of the evidence and testimony.”

Proponents of the bill said the trauma experienced by people who have been sexually assaulted can manifest in different ways. Sometimes the varying symptoms may be confused by mental health professionals as some form of mental illness, said Sara Rust-Martin, policy director for the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

“Victims should not be held accountable for behaviors directly attributable to their offenders,” Rust-Martin said.

There was no testimony in opposition to the bill. Jessica Glendenning, of the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, offered neutral testimony on the measure. She said the current law is problematic for singling out complaining witnesses in sexual assault cases but that removing evaluation under any circumstance is not the right path to address the issue.

“A better approach would be to recognize that psychological evaluations can, in rare circumstances, offer valuable insights in a variety of cases and to provide guidelines and a clear mechanism for obtaining an evaluation in any type of criminal case,” Glendenning said.

A second bill heard Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee would require earlier notice to the attorney general when a person who may be a sexually violent predator is going to be released and where that person will be held during civil commitment proceedings. Supporters of the measure say it would reduce the burden on county jails during the commitment process.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.