Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another Kind of Rape Casualty: Justice for the Accused

The unexpected development in the rape charge against Dominique Strauss-Kahn  if nothing else shows that in legal matters things are not always as as they seem, no matter how solid a case initially appears against a defendant.  For this reason one issue that I've not yet seen discussed in all the media coverage of this affair, and for that matter in any well publicized case involving allegations of sexual assault, is why the accused does not have the same right to privacy in order to be spared embarrassment as that automatically granted by the press to  the accuser. Under the American Constitution, isn't a person presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? 

Consider how prejudicial it is against the defense when the only name and photo in a rape case that you will see or hear bandied about in the media is that of someone who has been  charged  but not yet convicted of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Imagine how pictures of the accused doing the "perp walk" affects potential candidates when it's time to select a jury.  Yet, there is no offsetting mention of the accuser's identity and background to balance the picture in the mind of the public.

So even if the defendant is eventually cleared, there may always be a shadow of doubt in the court of public opinion as to his innocence that will stalk him for the rest of his life and that can for example ruin his career and relationship with family members.  This goes back to the question of why the accuser should be the one to be granted anonymity in the first place?  If she is truly a victim of a crime and what happened to her was totally beyond her control, why should she feel humiliated and hide herself as though she had done something shameful?  This isn't  Afghanistan. Moreover, trials are usually open to the public who  will then see her anyway when she finally appears in the courtroom and gives her testimony.  On the other hand, if the defendant is found to be not guilty because he was falsely accused, society may be then become less inclined to believe plaintiffs who really were assaulted and who press charges against their attackers.

So in short, either both sides must be shielded from identification and resulting pre-trial publicity, or neither side should be.  The present double standard must be abolished.  Only then can the interests of justice be truly served.