Judge: Accuser Cannot Be Called 'Victim' At Bryant Trial

Ruckriegle Says Term Implies Guilt

Prosecutors, witnesses and other participants in Kobe Bryant's trial will be prohibited from using the term "victim" to describe the woman accusing the NBA star of rape.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he agreed with Bryant's lawyers that the term implies guilt and should not be used at trial. He said she must be referred to by name; or in jury instructions, where she must be referred to as "person."

"Its use under these circumstances could improperly suggest that a crime had been committed such that the presumption of innocence might be jeopardized," Ruckriegle said.

The judge said he disagreed with prosecutors that the term is a legal label that allows the woman to take advantage of certain rights and state-funded services guaranteed to victims of crime.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon had argued referring to the 19-year-old as a victim would impair jurors' ability to impartially consider the evidence. He suggested what he called more neutral terms such as "complaining witness" or "alleged victim."

"Until Mr. Bryant is acquitted, he is a victim, or at least, arguably is," Haddon said during a May 11 hearing on the issue.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the word has specific definitions under law that guarantee the woman compensation for certain expenses and therapeutic services.

"To strip her of that designation you would deny that to her and revictimize her," Hurlbert argued.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said prosecutors' initial understanding is that they are now required to use "alleged victim" until the trial. She said prosecutors may ask the judge for clarification.

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the defense bid to bar "victim," said the ruling effectively continues a double standard for crime victims.

For example, spokeswoman Cynthia Stone said, someone who is mugged is called a victim from the time of the allegation.

"Our biggest disappointment in this is the fact that it now forces the prosecution to use the term `alleged victim,' which is totally against their most deep-seated beliefs," she said. "The prosecution is there because they believe this woman, they believe that this crime happened."

"This is a significant victory for the defense but it will not be a decisive ruling in determining the outcome of the case," said 7NEWS Analyst Craig Silverman. "It is hard for anyone to seriously deny that calling her 'the victim' flies in the face of the presumption of innocence given that the defense here is consent."

In his ruling, Ruckriegle said there are numerous definitions of "victim" in state law. For his part, the judge said he will continue to refer to the woman as alleged victim.

"Although this is only a trial court ruling, you can bet that other Colorado defense attorneys with similarly situated clients will file the same motion seeking the same ruling," Silverman said.

"At the trial, this alleged victim may be referred to by her given name. This is the same thing that happens every day in Colorado sexual assault cases. It is up to the media to decide whether to publish that name. The rule followed at the County Court preliminary hearing where the alleged victim could not be referred to by name was unprecedented and is now abandoned," Silverman said.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman at the Vail-area resort where the woman worked last summer.

If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine up to $750,000.

Related Articles:

Previous Stories:

Print this article Back to Top