A bill regulating access to child pornography evidence will move to the state House, despite some concerns about constitutionality and fair trial rights.
The bill prevents defense attorneys from making copies of child pornography evidence. Instead, attorneys must travel to where the evidence is being held, usually a police station.
In an 8-1 vote Friday, the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness approved House Bill 2177.
The committee adopted an amendment to the bill that requires prosecutors to follow the same rules.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, was the sole vote against the bill.
"I don't think prisoners should have full access to this type of material, but I do have a problem with restricting the evidence from defense lawyers, who are officers of the court, and now, with the new amendment, to the prosecutors as well," she said.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said the bill aims to treat child pornography evidence like other types of contraband, such as drugs.
"If there are prohibited drugs as evidence, that's not released from a secure location for defendants to take with them. This is about keeping contraband under control," he said.
At the bill's hearing Jan. 11, Appleton said she had a gut feeling that this bill somehow violated the constitution and fair trial rights.
Amy Muth, defense attorney and member of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the Herald even with the amendment that ensures equal access for prosecutors and defendants, the limits this bill puts on attorney access is a problem.
Muth said she has seen cases with 30,000 images and 11 terabytes of data, and under this bill, each time attorneys want to run tests or check the evidence, they would have to go to a police station.
When attorneys need help from forensics experts, who often are hired from out of state, the experts would need hotels near the evidence and transportation to and from the police station, Muth said. This extra step could double or triple the time it takes to review the evidence and add more costs, she said.
Because the state provides most public defense attorneys for these cases, Muth said, Washington counties will be paying the extra costs.
"We are officers of the court. We take this seriously. And we can be trusted with this evidence," Muth said.
Under the nation's belief in a "separation of powers," lawmakers do not have the authority to influence court rules, she argued.
If the bill passes and the courts find it unconstitutional, child pornography suspects could potentially be retried and victims would have to testify again, Muth said.
A retrial will further victimize child pornography victims, she said.