TRENTON, N.J. – Conversations with close confidants following a sexual assault or employment discrimination should be admissible evidence in civil cases, Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis says. On Monday she, along with Sen. Kristin Corrado, introduced a joint resolution (SJR82/AJR163) urging the N.J. Supreme Court to adopt those rule changes.
Under current court rules, such conversations are inadmissible in civil cases as hearsay, or out-of-court statements made to prove the truth of a claim, and can include oral, written, or even photographed statements.
“Victims often turn to close family or friends after an assault or being discriminated against, because they’re looking for comfort, and are unsure if they will be believed if they report it, or have a job should they file a complaint,” Matsikoudis (R-Union) said. “Senator Corrado and I believe a jury should be allowed to hear that witness testify to that conversation as supporting evidence of a victim’s complaint. It’s allowed in criminal trials in New Jersey and should be allowed in civil cases as well.”
The New York legislature is considering a similar action, known as the “Don’t Silence Survivors Act.” If passed, the bill would allow survivors and witnesses to present conversations as evidence in a civil trial. While New York State can amend its rules of evidence through legislative action, the New Jersey legislature can only urge the state’s highest court to adopt evidence rules changes. The justices must vote to make any changes.
The resolution stipulates that any statements relating to claims of sexual assault or employment discrimination must have been made spontaneously and voluntarily, and within what the court determines is a reasonable amount of time after the incident. The statement must have been made to a person the survivor would ordinarily turn to for support.
“There are numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule. Assemblywoman Matsikoudis and I want the court to offer that exception in sexual assault and employment discrimination cases, to empower survivors and their witnesses to come forward,” Corrado (R-Passaic) added. “Sometimes fear keeps victims from seeking justice. This rule change will protect everyone and ensure justice is served.”