Friday, October 24, 2008

Justice For All

Today Jezebel has a post on an accused rapist who personally took it upon himself to cross-examine the victim at his trial. And there's nothing wrong with being outraged at the manipulations of a criminal. As women it's okay to feel solidarity and to want to support rape victims and fight for appropriate punishments for rapists. I wouldn't have a problem with it if it weren't for the last sentence: "You've got to love our criminal justice system."

I'm hoping this is a knee-jerk reaction, not one that was given time and thought. (To be fair, my knee-jerk reaction to that statement is something not fit for family viewing.) Several of the commenters also went after the Judge for allowing the conduct. An accused rapist who personally cross-examines the victim is most likely a bastard and deserves whatever vitriol we spew. But instead there seems to be just as much hatred for the Judge and the system that allowed these actions as for the defendant himself.

As a lawyer, this tendency to blame the justice system concerns me. Yes, it's terrible that a woman's rapist gets to confront her again in a courtroom setting. But what happens if we don't allow people to cross-examine witnesses against them? What if it wasn't a rapist that was on trial? What if it was an innocent person? Is it okay to allow the suggestion that rapists don't deserve rights? Where do you draw that line?

The article that serves as the basis for the story notes that while the Judge allowed the questioning, he didn't in any way endorse it. In fact, he pointed out to the defense attorney that the defendant's actions were hurting his own case. My guess is this guy just wrote his guilty verdict himself. This isn't a situation where we shouldn't hate the player but the game. This is a time where we really should go all out for the player.

This type of rhetoric tears down a system that we should try to build. This wasn't just some random law someone thought up. It's the 6th Amendment of the Constitution. That's right, folks, your basic Bill of Rights. Mine, yours, everyone's. Even rapists. If we find flaws in the system, we should jump to point them out and rally against them. If we find Judges who refuse to follow the law, we should bring their actions to light. But just because someone you dislike is protected by the same rights as everyone else doesn't mean we, as feminists, should rally a pitchfork-bearing mob. There's no such thing as a perfect legal system. Sometimes guilty people go free, sometimes innocent people go to jail. The trial of a rape victim isn't something anyone enjoys, it's a painful difficult process, especially for the victim who has to testify. I can't imagine how terrible this experience must have been for her. But I also think it must have been hard for the Judge to watch it all unfold and know it was his job to let it happen. I respect him for it, and I hope others will, too.


daedalus2u said...

If I were a juror, and a defendant pulled that stunt, I would take it as a sign that he showed no remorse and would commit the crime again and I would convict for the longest time in prison possible.

I might even complain to the judge that the potential prison terms were not long enough.

Casmall said...

Great post Maggie! A clear analysis of a highly emotional issue.

Mächtige Maus said...

I am with you. The concept that the justice system was designed to serve us all is often lost in the anger that its balance seems to generate.

NewsCat said...

Thank you for the post. The thing about trials is while they may be unpleasant for victims, its the only way to garentee the concept of a "fair system." Someone isn't guilty until proven in a court with the evidence presented and he has the chance to face his accuser.

In this case though I'm somewhat confused why the defendent would do this. (His defense lawyer sounded exasperated). Was it a powertrip for him? One last attempt at "control" over someone when he probably won't have any for the rest of his life? Or is he deluded in some sense...thinking that "well I watched you through the are a wanted me."

I feel for the victim in this case but I agree the Judge made the right decision to allow him to question his accuser.

Maggie said...

newscat, from what I've seen of defendants (and I've seen my share) there's a sense of powerlessness when you don't speak in your own trial. Someone else asks all the questions, and some defendants feel like their lawyers aren't doing things "right." I've heard of this kind of thing happening before in everything from minor hearings to trials, it's uncommon but certainly not unheard of. I sympathize with the general sentiment, but not with this defendant's use of it. It's an obviously manipulative technique here and I'm betting he got a thrill out of it.