Bill leaves rape victims empowered
Last Tuesday, The Daily Cougar ran a staff editorial expressing disapproval of a proposed state bill that would significantly alter the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted in court. The bill would permit the jury to hear testimony of previous allegations against the accused, even if these purported instances resulted in no charges or convictions.
Currently, Texas law allows statements solely from the victim of the assault being tried, and the pending rule change would grant prosecutors a powerful tool in securing convictions.
Opponents of the bill argue that allowing such unproven statements amounts to character assassination of the accused and will lead to a greater number of innocent people sent to prison.
As expressed by the Daily Cougar, “people could be jailed for life or even put to death from unfair convictions.” These claims discredit the jury’s ability to evaluate evidence and disparages victims of earlier assaults who hesitated to come forward before.
Far from introducing superfluous evidence, the additional testimony assists in establishing the character of the accused. Of course, character alone does not equate to guilt or innocence, but it does reveal the tendencies of an individual.
The Federal Rules of Evidence stipulate that, “evidence of the defendant’s commission of another offense or offenses of sexual assault is admissible, and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.”
Of course, this is predicated by belief in the veracity of the testimony, and is one of the main points of contention for opponents of the bill. They conjure up images of scorned ex-girlfriends and bitter divorcees who would like nothing better than to exact their revenge on a former lover.
Overwhelmed by exaggerated claims and fabricated stories, juries will wrongly convict innocent individuals, and the entire justice system will be undermined by spurious claims of prior crimes.
What detractors of the bill fail to consider is that the merits of the additional testimony would first be vetted by a judge in order to determine both credibility and relevance.
In addition, juries are assumed to be quite capable of evaluating evidence, a belief that is one of the cornerstones of our justice system.
False testimony would severely weaken the prosecution’s case, so they would have little to gain by bringing deceitful claims into the courtroom. Furthermore, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the defense the right to cross-examine any witness, thereby allowing for the deconstruction of any claims of past crimes.
Perhaps most importantly, the proposed bill gives a voice to prior victims of a sexual predator. Whether out of fear or shame, many victims of sexual assault never report the crime or decline to press charges.
The fact that a crime was never reported does not mean that a crime was not committed. These silent victims, the majority of whom are women, are currently forced to endure a great injustice, and granting them the opportunity to assist in convicting some of the most reprehensible types of criminals can aid in their own recovery process.
Rather then questioning their integrity, these women should be applauded for having the courage to finally stand up to their aggressors.
An individual is innocent until proven guilty, and the outcome of a criminal trial depends on both physical and verbal evidence. Every victim of a sexual predator should be allowed to testify against their assailant, thereby providing juries the means to accurately reach a verdict.
Federal courts already deem these accusations of prior crimes relevant and admissible, it is time that the state of Texas follows suit.