Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Anonymous Victim Meets Anonymous Defendant

There have been many comments, posts, and emails about the importance of a defendant's rights versus a victim's rights on this blog.  The U.S. Constitution lists the rights every person and every defendant is entitled to.  The right to remain silent, the right to have a case tried by a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt, etc.

We must look to state legislatures for the protections of victims.  In all the jurisdictions I know, a sexual assault victim's identity remains a secret (example is the Jerry Sandusky trial).  It cannot be mentioned in court documents or by the media.  Also, juvenile defendant's enjoy the same anonymity.

Not Savannah Dietrich.  Savannah is a seventeen year old victim on the cusp of going to jail.  Yes, the victim may go to jail.

Savannah was sexually assaulted by two teenage defendants, who then posted pictures of her on the internet.  She called the police, who arrested both boys.  The case wound through the juvenile system, which is confidential and closed to the public.  Savannah and her family were unhappy with the plea deal, which has not been made public.

She then took to twitter, releasing her attacker's names in violation of a court order.  Savannah went public with her ordeal and her name, even though she didn't have to.  I am an avid supporter of empowering victims.  See here.  My sworn duty, however, is to enforce the laws, which include contempt of court.  I support Savannah going public, but she definitely violated a court order by tweeting the names.

Would I prosecute Savannah?  Well, that's what prosecutorial discretion is all about.  Doing what's right.  What is right?  Fortunately, I don't get paid enough to make that decision in a case like this.

There will be a hearing on July 30, regarding Savannah's contempt charge.  It is a juvenile proceeding and thus closed to the public.  Savannah, however wants to make it public.  The defendants attorneys are fighting that.  One article reported that the criminal petition was withdrawn, but I cannot find another article to corroborate that.  If it was withdrawn, that means the prosecution would not be prosecuting Savannah.

Many interesting issues are arising out of this case.  Savannah's tweets touch on the First Amendment freedom of speech and whether she should have the case open to the public and media.  And whether her First Amendment right overrules the court's order to keep the proceedings private.  It pits her feelings and what she views as rights against the defendants'.  It is a constant battle within every case.

Not a week goes by that I don't have a conversation like this.

Witness:  Why do I have to come in?
PD:  You have to testify.
Witness:  Why do I have to testify?
PD:  So we can go forward with the case.  We can't prove it unless you testify.
Witness:  I gave my statement to the police.  I told them who did it.  That's enough.
PD:  It's enough to arrest them.  But to move forward, we need testimony.  A person has a right to confront witnesses.
Witness:  What about my rights?

The conversation is also had when discussing a reduced plea with a very cooperative victim.  I'll post how we come to plea bargaining decisions and how we discuss those with the victims next week.

So what do you think?  Should the victims have rights?  Do they have enough now?  Does one set of rights have to trump the other?  Can they co-exist?



  2. Of course victim's have rights. However, two wrongs don't make a right. If we excused one breaking the law to "get back at" another breaking the law, where would we draw the line? Do we excuse the victim who kills a man who assault her?

    1. We prosecute so many crimes like this. Criminal contempt for our victims who fail to testify in the grand jury or trial. Retaliatory assaults. Like I said, we are sworn to uphold the laws and prosecute the offenders.

      But we are still people. Even when we prosecute crimes, we can still understand the defendant's motivations. That's what makes us good prosecutors. We can prosecute the case and obtain a just result.

      FormerA34? I love to see my old bureau commenting.