The two New York police officers accused of raping a drunken women after they helped her get back into her apartment were acquitted by a jury this week. It does not seem to matter how many times we read about false allegations of rape and sexual assault, every time a jury vindicates a defendant charged with a sex crime many in society are again surprised.
However, this verdict should have come as a surprise to no one – except perhaps the prosecutor. In fact, the one thing that this case should re-confirm once again is that while rape and sexual assault may be the most under reported crime, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Justice they are the most frequent false criminal allegation – and by a large margin!
This case could serve as the shinning example of typical weak/bad/groundless sexual assault prosecution—inconsistent story by the complainant, no details to her story, and no DNA, forensics, or other collaborative evidence. The police officers were charged with raping a drunken woman after helping her into her apartment while on patrol. The woman’s testimony described a harrowing night of abuse by the officers. The prosecution’s theory was predicated, at least in part, on the theory that the woman was not capable of consent due to her state of intoxication. The prosecutor argued that she was essentially unconscious given her incredibly high blood alcohol level. While the officers insisted no rape occurred, one did admit that he snuggled with her while she wore nothing but a bra.
As is the case with many false allegations of rape and sexual assault, the case had serious problems. The squad car video showed that she was not nearly as drunk as she (and the prosecutor) claimed her to be. The accuser did not remember hardly any details (common in false allegations), and her story constantly wavered and was inconsistent – she even told her friends that she “might” have been raped. There was no DNA or other forensic evidence tying the alleged rapist to the encounter, or even suggesting that sex had occurred at all. In other words, a perfect recipe for an acquittal in the hands of experienced, competent defense counsel.
After the verdict, jurors told the media that there was not enough evidence to prove that a rape had occurred. “I did think that they might have had sex, but that doesn’t mean that they did have sex,” one juror said. “There is nothing to substantiate this. There’s no DNA, there’s no proof in any way that they had sex.” The jurors also stressed that the prosecution was hampered by the accuser’s memory loss. “It was very hard to make a leap to charge people with rape when the principal person in the trial didn’t remember so many things,” according to a juror.
Mark A. Satawa practices in the area of criminal defense, specializing in sex crimes. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (www.NACDL.org), and is a frequent continuing legal education speaker on sex offenses, most recently at the Institute for Continuing Legal Education seminar on Proven Defense Strategies for Challenging Criminal Sexual Conduct Cases