Friday, May 25, 2012

Refusing to punish false accuser in the Brian Banks case would undermine public confidence in our justice system

In the wake of news of the horrifying false rape claim that Wanetta Gibson's lodged against Brian Banks, we learn that is uncertain whether Gibson will have to return the money and unlikely she would be prosecuted for making the false accusation so long ago. 
Wanetta Gibson concocted a rape lie that derailed the promising football career of a young black man. She had it in her power to free Banks from this false rape hell at any time, but she watched in silence as Banks served over five years in prison despite knowing he was innocent. Then, after he was out but still on probation, she told him she'd help clear his name, but not if it meant disgorging the $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools.
If Ms. Gibson is not charged, the district attorney owes it to the citizens of Los Angeles to explain why.  If the public, and that includes potential rape trial jurors, believes that innocent persons can be convicted and imprisoned as easily as occurred here, they will be all the more wary about convicting anyone for rape in the absence of a video showing the vile deed.  It is incumbent on the district attorney to signal that lies such as the one Gibson told are not tolerated, and that Brian Banks' victimization was not acceptable collateral damage in the war on crime.  This would go a long way toward restoring public confidence in the system.

Perhaps the statute of limitations has run out on Gibson. If so, it tells us there is something wrong with the way the statute of limitations is written or applied: a rape liar should not be rewarded for her ability to hide the truth until the statute runs out. The statute should only start to run when the rape lie is discovered.

Moreover, the citizens of the school district should insist that Gibson disgorge the ill-gotten gain that unjustly enriched her for a rape lie.  Mr. Banks' life was destroyed while Gibson became a millionaire.  The outrage should be palpable.

Punishing Gibson Will Not Send Wrong Message to Rape Victims
Punishing Gibson for her lie will not send the wrong message to rape victims who are mulling over whether they should report their rapes.  The one has nothing to do with the other, and charging Gibson will only deter rape liars from coming forward, not rape victims.  No serious commentator calls for the prosecution of rape accusers in "he said, she said" cases simply because an accusation turns out to be unfounded. But where there is overriding evidence that a rape lie sent a young man to prison and derailed his life, the district attorney must prosecute.  
If anyone suggests that charging for this vile rape lie will deter women from coming forward and reporting their rapes, it is they who would be doing a grave disservice to rape victims by  improperly discouraging them from coming forward. Rape victims need to be assured that this atrocity has nothing to do with the claim they should make. 
By signaling to the public that rape liars are punished, the public will have greater confidence that the system only honors legitimate rape claims, and that innocent men and boys are not in danger of being destroyed at the whim of a private citizen.  This can only help rape victims get the justice they deserve.
The prosecution of rape raises a host of complex issues that require the nuanced balancing of critical and delicate interests: we must, on the one hand, strive to punish malefactors, and on the other, insure that the innocent are not punished with the guilty. The balancing of those two imperatives is difficult enough in the rape milieu without injecting childish politicization into the discourse that insists even terrible lies shouldn't be prosecuted.
Punishing Gibson Will Not Deter Recantations
Others will say that Gibson should not be charged because it would discourage other false accusers from recanting, thus harming even further their falsely accused victims. In fact, it is likely that adopting a policy of not punishing rape liars will have the effect of reducing recantations.  
A rape liar makes a false claim to fulfill a personal need -- often to give her a handy excuse, to exact revenge, or to gain attention. The rape liar is unlikely to drop the lie unless she believes that doing so will fulfill an even greater, more pressing, personal need than the one that prompted the lie in the first place. Most rape lies are recanted due to the belief that the lie is likely to be exposed and that the liar will be punished more severely if she refuses to admit it. 
In point of fact, rape recantations typically occur only after police have found a hole, often a gaping hole, in the accuser's story and there is little likelihood that the case will go to trial anyway, much less result in a conviction. Police officers apprise the accuser that they've found a video, a witness, or some other evidence, and that her story doesn't add up. That is often enough to prompt a recantation.  (Not all recantations are legitimate, of course, and where there is a possibility that the recantation was made out of fear of the man accused, it needs to examined with heightened scrutiny.)  But many recantations occur due to the belief that the punishment to the false accuser will be more severe without a recantation. If the fear of punishment were removed, it is unlikely that many false accusers would recant. 
More fundamentally, for every other criminal act, our criminal justice system values the concept of deterrence. Would-be false accusers will not be deterred unless they know they face serious consequences. Without this deterrence, what is to stop people from manufacturing lies about serious criminality?  
An innocent person should not need to depend on a false accuser's whim to decide whether he or she will, in his or her sole and unilateral discretion, free the accused from a false rape hell by recanting. In fact, a false rape accuser is the last person whose goodwill the falsely accused should be forced to depend on. And, as noted above, without the threat of even greater punishment for not recanting, most rape liars likely would not recant.  Far too many falsely accused persons have sat in prison cells and suffered the atrocities of incarceration waiting in vain for a recantation that never was uttered.