This morning the New York Times is reporting problems, stunning problems, with the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. People commenting on the news page’s website range from: all that matters is whether she was assaulted to those prosecutors were power hungry (I’m paraphrasing).
Whether the alleged victim was assaulted is an important question. The problems with her credibility make the case very difficult to prosecute. I have no knowledge of this case beyond the above-linked report. I have prosecuted and defended sexual assault cases.
A criminal case such as the one against Strauss-Kahn hinges on the credibility, reliability, and honesty of the alleged victim. A jury of 12 regular people must believe this alleged victim. The defense has the right to present her lies in this case and possibly lies or inconsistencies she’s made a prior sexual assaults (depending on state laws).
The jury must decide whether they believe this woman without the assistance of tabloid rhetoric. Hopefully the knee-jerk jurors who would automatically vote to convict or vote to acquit had been removed. Hopefully, the jury would be made up of people who will consider all the evidence.
Jurors, like anyone, will evaluated the alleged victim’s credibility, or ability to tell the truth. Just as anyone, if a person has a history of lying and lying about this particular type of incident, a juror, and any person, would find it more difficult to believe a witness or alleged victim who has an established history of lying.
Prosecutors MUST provide this information of a history of lying by the alleged victim or any other witness to defendants.
The prosecutor also carries a higher obligation. The prosecutor is sworn to find the truth and seek justice. If this alleged victim’s credibility is so damaged that the prosecutors do not have a good faith belief that she is telling the truth or that they cannot meet their burden of proof, then the prosecutors are OBLIGATED to dismiss the case.
The public believes that the prosecutors function as public attorneys. This perception fails to encompass the entire role of a prosecutor. Sometimes victims, usually property crime victims, and law enforcement push and press cases that cannot meet the burden of proof “beyond a reasonable.” The prosecutor SHOULD make difficult choices about whether a case can meet that burden.
Prosecutors in some cases fail to appreciate this enhanced obligation.
The prosecutors in smaller localities often pursue cases because of the public’s misapprehension of dismissing or reducing such cases creates sensational headlines that may hinder reelection. Tough choices made due to facts that are not necessarily available to general public make life more difficult for elected prosecutors.
Instead of vilifying the DA’s office in this case, the public should respect their good faith investigation. The public should honor this DA for doing what is right even when faced with the “egg on the face” that may come from abandoning this sensational, high profile, tabloid fiasco.
The tabloids and incendiary media should step back. If the case was prosecuted, the salacious details would be headlines and the prosecutor would skewered for pursuing the case all together. This prosecutor is making the best choices for the community.
I just hope people see the wisdom of the choices. These choices do not mean that Strauss-Kahn did not commit the acts charged. The choice means that the case cannot establish Strauss-Kahn’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the case can’t be proved, then the prosecution should not go forward.
But folks just don’t understand that.