Child pornography should be handled just like cocaine or guns when it comes to keeping it locked up before offenders go on trial.
Rep. Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, has introduced House Bill 2177 to the state Legislature to prevent defense attorneys or a defendant representing himself from having their own copies of the alleged pornography.
Current court rules require prosecutors to give the defense any evidence before a trial.
"I trust that criminal defense attorneys would not intentionally distribute these materials," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, "but they may not have the proper security to prevent its distribution."
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He testified Wednesday in front of the state House Public Safety Committee.
Washington courts have special rules to prevent the release of other contraband in court cases but not child pornography, he said.
"It appears we give better protection to things like guns and drugs than we give protection to our children," Lindquist said.
The bill would prevent the copying of child pornography by the defense. Instead, the defense could make arrangements to view the evidence, which will be kept locked up. Once a trial ends, the evidence would be sealed and destroyed at a later date.
Many officials and citizens are expressing outrage about a current Pierce County case in which Weldon Marc Gilbert is representing himself on charges he sexually abused an estimated 40 boys and young men and is allowed to watch more than 28 hours of child pornography videos that he is suspected of filming.
In the Tri-Cities, the Sexual Assault Response Center, which offers emergency services for crime victims, encounters a couple of child pornography victims each year, said Renee E. Blackman, SARC program director.
And she noted that 20 percent of criminals charged with assault, rape or molestation of children are also found to possess child pornography.
Like many forms of abuse, child pornography goes unreported, Blackman said.
Many adults seeking counseling at SARC admit that they were forced to participate in prostitution and pornography as children, she said.
Lindquist said Pierce County deals with dozens of child pornography cases each year, collecting more than 100 videos and thousands of photos.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said she was concerned that the bill might lead to unfair trials, because the defense would have less access to the materials than the prosecution, which still could make copies of evidence under the current bill.
Amy Muth, with the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said fewer attorneys would be willing to defend those accused of child pornography because of the inconvenience of viewing, but not possessing copies of the evidence. And she said attorneys who take these cases will bill their clients two to three times more if the bill passes.
During the hearing, Tom McBride, executive secretary for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, proposed rewriting the bill so prosecutors cannot make copies of child pornography either.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, a member of the committee, said, "In its current form this bill honors the defense's constitutional rights." But he also said he would support rewriting the bill, which he believes will get bipartisan support in the House.
The federal government does not allow the copying of child pornography for federal cases through the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act.
Connecticut and Ohio have passed similar state laws, said Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Kit Proctor.