Quint Forgey | The Advertiser

BATON ROUGE — Following the uncontested approval of Senate Bill 320 in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, domestic violence victims are another step closer to having special seating — separate from alleged abusers — in state courtrooms.

Authored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, the measure provides for designated seating for the victims’ witnesses and families and a secure waiting area separate from the defendants and their families and friends.

Carolyn Stapleton, president of Baton Rouge Area Victims Empowered, presented the bill before committee on Morrell’s behalf. She said courtroom seating is often “first-come, first-served,” which can lead to the “cruel and unusual punishment” of forcing a victim’s loved ones to sit near those of the abuser.

“They don’t even want to look at the offenders family,” Stapleton said.

Also testifying was Catalene Theriot, a representative of Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered, who once was forced to sit in court behind the family of her child’s murderer and listen to their comments throughout the trial.

“Sometimes the defendant’s family wants to intimidate a witness or a victim,” Theriot said. “All we’re asking for is just for them to have a safe place to sit.”

The measure now heads to the full House for debate where little, if any, opposition is anticipated, and then on to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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