Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The manual used by police in the Univ. of Montana quarterback rape case states “every sex crime investigation is to be initiated with the belief it is true until evidence demonstrates otherwise”

University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson is about to go on trial for rape in a trial that will attract enormous national attention. The defense filed a motion to dismiss the case, complaining that the police were biased in its investigation, that they started from a presumption of guilt rather than innocence. The defense pointed to the chilling words of the Missoula Police Department policy manual that reads “every sex crime investigation is to be initiated with the belief it is true until evidence demonstrates otherwise.”

Missoula County District Court judge Karen Townsend denied the motion to dismiss the case, stating that the accused is not entitled to a presumption of innocence while a rape investigation is going on. She wrote: “It is not until the time of trial that the defendant is guaranteed a right to a fair trial and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.”

The defense motion has ripped off an ugly scab that covers up the way rape claims are handled in this country. Our blog is replete with examples of sexual assault cases where police sought only evidence that would support the accuser's claim, ignoring evidence that might support the defense. Sometimes evidence that supports the defense is outright hidden. Some of the most blatant examples of this are found in the Innocence Project's Web site.

The ugly fact is that in too many counties, and on too many college campuses, the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases is agenda-driven, and that doesn't bode well for the presumptively innocent. Prof. Alan Dershowitz complained about how the New York district attorney's office presumed Dominique Strauss-Khan guilty "from the beginning":
. . . prosecutors of sex cases need to do some major housecleaning—not only in District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office in Manhattan but also in prosecutors’ offices all across the country. Special sex prosecutors and special rape prosecutors are often agenda driven. Too often they believe they’re on a mission and treat the alleged victim in a way that’s different from how they handle any other crime. They’re zealots; I call them Nancy Grace prosecutors. She behaves on her TV talk show as if there’s no such thing as innocence; everybody arrested is guilty.
The most despicable example of this agenda-driven mindset might be found in the materials that Stanford University used -- and perhaps still uses -- to train its judicial panelists who preside over disciplinary proceedings involving allegations of sexual assault. Among other things, the materials stated:
Everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man's claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence. The great majority of allegations of abuse -- though not all -- are substantially accurate.
Last year, we reported on a couple of prominent rape cases that were reversed on appeal where the prosecution actually trotted out experts to tell juries that accusers virtually never lie. See here and here.  These efforts underscore a very troubling mindset that assumes guilt by reason of an accusation.

In the Jordan Johnson case, the prosecution refuted the defense motion with this singularly weak assertion: “It makes no sense for a police agency to have a policy that assumes the reporter of a crime is making a false report, since such assumption would negate the need for an investigation.”

That argument, of course, is a straw man. Police should not assume from the outset that a claim is false; they should only assume that they don't know what happened, and they should be guided by the evidence they collect after an objective, and painstaking, investigation that is neither politicized nor agenda-driven.

The prosecution in the Jordan Johnson case also contended that a full reading of the police policy reveals a requirement that the police “obtain the information necessary to determine a crime is being alleged” and “establish whether a crime occurred.” That is small consolation when law enforcement is encouraged to start from the premise that the accuser must be telling the truth.

It is the rush-to-judgment mindset that is most troubling, and damaging, to the community of the wrongly accused.

SOURCE ON THE JORDAN JOHNSON MOTION: http://helenair.com/news/local/state-and-regional/judge-denies-request-to-dismiss-johnson-rape-case/article_4e9c5aa4-6f36-11e2-b304-001a4bcf887a.html