Can’t say “rape” in a rape trial

June 12, 2008
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you are involved in a trial dealing with an alleged rape, then the word “rape” should come up in order to describe the purported crime. But one judge in Kansas has made headlines because he doesn’t want the word “rape” or any kind of synonym for the term to be uttered in his courtroom during a rape trial because that would be unfair to the defendant. What about the alleged victim? Placing restrictions on her testimony to not include the words “rape,” “sexual assault,” or “assailant” hinders her ability to accurately describe what happened to her.





 This country prides itself on the First Amendment protection of free speech, but the Kansas judge decided the defendant’s right to a fair trial was more important, believing that allowing the victim to say the defendant “raped” her might interfere with the presumption of innocence by the jury. But could placing restrictions on the alleged victim’s testimony and the use of the word “rape” during trial affect her rights as a victim?



  This case is just begging to be looked at by the United States Supreme Court. The victim, Tory Bowen, filed a lawsuit claiming the judge’s actions violated her First Amendment rights. A federal appeals court dismissed her suit, but her attorney plans to petition the nation’s highest court to take a look.  Apparently, this isn’t an isolated case – it’s a growing trend in sexual assault cases. When is a judge is overstepping his or her boundaries in restricting the use of the word “rape” in a rape trial? It’s not a “forced sexual intercourse” trial or a “disagreement about consent” trial, but a rape trial.
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  • Okay--that is just ridiculous. When the charge against the defendant _itself_ contains a word, how is the jury hearing the word in the courtroom any more damning than the simple fact that the defendant is on trial? Last time I checked, evidence is supposed to be weighed as to whether it is more prejudicial than probative, not whether it is prejudicial at ALL.

    Of COURSE the words are prejudicial--this isn\'t embezzlement or securities fraud, for heaven\'s sake. The negative connotations associated with the words rape and sexual assault are there because those crimes are, by their nature, PERSONALLY violative. Taking away the prosecution\'s right to use those words dehumanizes the victim all over again, in either of two ways: either the severity of the crime or the extent of the damage it inflicted will be minimized; or the victim will be forced to relive the incident even more than is necessary because the prosecution will need even greater graphic detail to get the message across to the jury. Yet another burden on prosecutors who already walk a tightrope in trying to get inflict any additional pain.
  • No, it makes sense. Its not a rape until the jury or judge convicts. To allow a witness to say He raped her is a legal conclusion that a witness may not make under the IRE. The same can be said for calling someone a victim...judges may properly admonish all lawyers to watch their, and their witnesses, language use during the trial. A mistrial is not warranted upon a violation of the admonishment. All such admionishments do not apply in final argument, of course.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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