June 16, 2008

Courts Putting Hot-Button Words on Ice

Judges are banning terms such as 'rape' and 'victim' as prejudicial to defendants????



Call it the age of the Loaded Word.
A steadily increasing number of courts across the United States are prohibiting witnesses and victims from uttering certain words in front of a jury, banning everything from the words "rape" to "victim" to "crime scene."
Prosecutors and victims' rights advocates nationwide claim the courts are going too far in trying to cleanse witness testimony, all to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial. Concerns and fears over language restrictions have been percolating ever since judges in Nebraska and Missouri last year banned the word "rape" during rape trials.

Marquis, who is the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., said courts telling witnesses and victims how to tell their story insults them, as well as the intelligence of jurors.
"You have a woman who's been raped and she has to say that she had sexual intercourse with the man, rather than calling him her attacker?" Marquis said. "I think this is going 50 years back in our legal evolution."
Not quite, counter criminal defense lawyers, who argue that certain words like "victim" and "rape" and "murder" conflict with the presumption of innocence, and therefore, should be kept out of trial.

Wendy J. Murphy of the New England School of Law, who is representing a Nebraska rape victim opposing the judge's barring of the word "rape," said the major battle facing prosecutors and victims now is fighting judges' censorship orders.


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