11 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2012
Date Written: February 14, 2012
The plethora of recent victim’s rights legislation makes it tougher to defend sex crime cases and more likely that innocent defendants will be subjected to lifetime restrictions if convicted. In order to tread the fine line between victims’ rights and zealous representation, defense attorneys need to recognize the areas of the law that are the trickiest to navigate under these new victims’ rights standards and the actions they can take to minimize their effects on the defense.
These actions include scrutinizing the case more deeply, hiring private investigators and forensic computer experts. Attorneys should also be familiar with the “first complaint” rules in their state, as many courts now allow the in-court use of hearsay regarding the victim’s initial report to another person. The prejudicial joinder of offenses is another recent development in victims’ rights, forcing defense attorneys to be wary of this effect of judicial efficiency. Additionally, the continued expansion of rape shield laws makes it increasingly difficult to use instances of non-truthfulness to impeach victims in sex crimes cases.
Trial practice is also affected by this victims’ rights era. Thus, it is important for all attorneys to identify a viable and creditable theory of defense, use voir dire to thoroughly vet prospective jurors, attempt to provide as much relevant and material impeachment evidence as possible under the rape shield statutes, and find the proper balance between zealous representation and not demeaning or degrading the purported victim.
Keywords: Victim Rights, Sex Crime, Legal Defense, Trial Practice, First Complaint
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