LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A law that goes into effect July 1 will make courtrooms in Mississippi more comfortable for kids.
House Bill 959 authorizes county courts to appoint a suitable attorney or layman as guardian ad litem, and it also makes changes to court procedures if children are involved.
"This bill just adds extra statutory protection for children who are victims and are witnesses to criminal acts," Lamar County Youth Court Judge Billy Andrews explained.
The law also allows a "support person" to accompany the child, as long as they are not involved in the case. In addition children are allowed to bring a comfort item to the proceeding, such as a toy, blanket or "properly trained facility animal."
Judge Andrews said he relaxes his language when working with children in the court, so that the legal formality is not confusing.
"[I] make sure they understand the significance of the oath to tell the truth and ask them questions you normally wouldn't ask an adult, like, 'You understand the difference between a lie and a truth?'" he said.
The only way Judge Andrews' court is not already equipped to follow this law is the screen mentioned in the legislation that would prevent the child from seeing the defendant or the public during testimony. Andrews' said his youth court only allows affected parties in the proceedings, so children are already protected.
"I've been on the bench almost eight years, and I've never had.. a reason in eight years to go to the extent that this bill requires," he said, "but that doesn't mean we won't."
To read HB 959, click here.