In the wake of the high-profile Savannah Dietrich court case, a bill in the Kentucky House would prevent judges from issuing gag orders against sexual assault victims undergoing trial in juvenile court.
If approved, House Bill 115 would allow juvenile crime victims to speak freely about their cases, said state Rep. Keith Bratcher, a Louisville Republican.
Dietrich’s name was not spoken at any point during the bill’s hearing. But Bratcher said he filed the bill after her case drew national attention—and criticism— last year. A judge threatened Dietrich with contempt after tweeting the names of two boys who’d pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her, and information about their plea deal.
The plea deal stipulated that Dietrich couldn’t speak publicly about the case.
“I was just disgusted that there was an attempt to silence her during her terrible thing that happened to her,” said Bratcher, “and I’ve found that some of the judges have said that—secretly have told me—that they like this clarification.”
The hearing sparked a debate about the nature of Juvenile Court privacy laws. Multiple committee members expressed concerns that sensitive information such as health records could be leaked.
“I’m uncomfortable with a person coming out of a court room where there’s confidential information that they hear about someone’s mental health or physical health, or health condition,” said State Rep. Darryl Owens, a Democrat from Louisville. “And they can come out and say that to the world. I’m just uncomfortable with that.”
The bill cleared the committee with only one pass vote, and now heads to the House floor for consideration.