Missouri legislation that created the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” has been challenged with a lawsuit that has temporarily blocked the law from going into effect.

The lawsuit argues that Senate Bill 569 is unconstitutional due to violations regarding the bill’s content, structure and procedures, mainly regarding the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.”

The bill contains three distinct parts:

  • “The Justice for Survivors Act” that establishes a statewide telehealth network for medical professionals to provide examinations and care to survivors.
  • “The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” that provides rights to survivors during interviews with attorneys and medical examinations.
  • Updated procedures for tracking and testing evidentiary collection kits.

If repealed, the lawsuit could affect all parts of the law.

According to the lawsuit, Senate Bill 569 violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech of the plaintiffs by enforcing government expectations on how attorneys are supposed to interact with survivors. Additionally, the lawsuit argues that the legislation would infringe on the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, as well as violating Missouri’s separation of powers.

Among the issues cited by the lawsuit are that defense attorneys say it would require them to provide information to survivors that is adverse to their own clients’ interest. They also argue that the law conflicts with an existing ban on an attorney giving advice to someone — in this case the survivor — who isn’t also represented by an attorney.

The lawsuit cites technical flaws with the way the three pieces of legislation were combined into a single bill. There are also concerns over how quickly the bill was passed, as lawmakers fast-tracked the bill due to the shortened session caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” closely follows recommendations detailed by Risenow.us, a national non-profit seeking to pass similar legislation in all 50 states. The lawsuit states that generic language used as a template for the bill was not modified enough to be specific to Missouri.

A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Cole County Circuit Court.

The plaintiffs of the case include several Missouri state public defenders and defendants facing sexual assault charges. They are being represented by Missouri State Public Defenders Jeffrey Esparza, Michael Hill and Gregory Mermelstein. Esparza and Hill did not respond for comment. Mermelstein declined to comment.

The original bill that the survivor’s bill of rights was added to was sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester. The bill passed nearly unanimously in the Missouri House with a 150-3 vote. Koenig could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit.

Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she is hopeful that if the law is shot down by the court, it will have strong momentum to be passed in the next legislative session.

“I feel like with our sexual assault legislation, we make one step forward, two steps back,” Carter Dochler said. “We’ve really had some great successes the last couple of years in terms of enhancing our state laws beyond just the reimbursement program for the sexual assault forensic kits, but really (in) definitions, timelines and the entire way that we respond.”

  • Fall 2020 State Government reporter. Studying magazine journalism and statistics. Reach me at katrinatroy@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

Recommended for you