In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Hinds-Radix, the Second Department determined the seven-year-old witness (who was the alleged victim of sexual offenses by the defendant) was properly declared a vulnerable witness pursuant to CPL 65.20 and was properly allowed to testify outside the presence of the defendant over closed circuit television.
…[W]e find that the Supreme Court properly declared the child to be a vulnerable witness. Since the child was seven years old at the time of the trial, she was “particularly young” …. Further, the defendant occupied a position of authority, since he was the child’s great uncle by marriage, the child regarded him as a family member …, he was responsible for the care of the child at the time the crime occurred, and he had frequent contact with her …. Thus, two of the factors set forth in CPL 65.20(10) were established by clear and convincing evidence … . It is also clear from the record that the emotional trauma the child experienced when she attempted to testify in open court about the crime substantially impaired her ability to communicate with the jury. Under all of the circumstances, the Supreme Court’s determination that the child was a vulnerable witness is supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record … .
Furthermore, the child was properly permitted to testify outside of the physical presence of the defendant. The Supreme Court’s observations of the child when she was questioned in the courtroom, and the hearing testimony of the social worker, provided clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the child’s severe emotional upset was the defendant’s presence in the room …. Accordingly, the record supports the requisite specific finding that placing the defendant and the child in the same room during the testimony of the child would contribute to the likelihood that the child would suffer “severe mental or emotional harm” (CPL 65.20). People v Beltran, 2013 NY Slip Op 05638, 2nd Dept 8-14-13