Mass. Court Sets Rules On Testimony By Disabled

The highest court in Massachusetts has issued new guidelines to ensure witnesses with disabilities that affect how they communicate get a fair chance to testify in court.

The Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday ruled on the petition of a Sudbury nursing home resident who was allegedly molested by an aide at the facility.

The woman had suffered a stroke that affected her ability to communicate, but not her mental capacities.

A district court judge ruled she wasn't competent to testify at the man's trial. He said allowing it would affect the defendant's right to cross-examination.

In its decision, the SJC said trial judges should make reasonable accommodations for witnesses and if a witness disputes a judge's ruling on his or her ability to testify, the judge should hold a hearing. It said the decision there can be taken to the state Appeals Court.

The woman's attorney, Wendy Murphy, says Wednesday's ruling sets a precedent for the entire nation.

"More disabled people will have more access to justice, more disabled crime victims will have their day in court, because now we have a case that says, 'Here's how you do it,' " Murphy said.

This program aired on August 11, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.