The general rule on hearsay is that any out of court statement being offered for the truth of the matter cannot be admitted unless it meets one of the exceptions for hearsay. An additional loophole separate from the hearsay exceptions addresses minor children. The policy of the Commonwealth is to promote procedures to protect children witnesses. These procedures are outlined in 42 Pa C.S.A. 5981 – 5988. For the purposes of the provisions in these sections, child is defined as an individual under sixteen (16) years of age. Per Section 5984.1, the court may direct that a child’s testimony be recorded for subsequent presentation in court so long as the method accurately captures all information presented during such testimony.
Similar to the allowance for recorded testimony, Section 5985 allows for the child to testify in a room other than the courtroom with the testimony being transmitted by contemporaneous alternative method. The court should first determine if the child would be subject to serious emotional distress if they had to testify in an open forum and/or before the defendant. Section 5985.1 allows statements that would otherwise be considered hearsay to be permitted if the child is under twelve (12) years of age and the testimony relates to certain offenses.