July 30, 2004

Compensation Confusion

by PG

When I read this AP piece in the Houston Chronicle, I was outraged. The state just gives alleged crime victims money? in amounts like $20,000 for sexual assault? Perhaps people ought to receive monetary compensation without having to pursue a civil trial (particularly against defendants without financial resources), but shouldn't they have to prove their allegation first?

Defense attorney Pamela Mackey certainly put it in an ugly light, saying that the accuser "has profited to an enormous amount, $20,000. I would suspect to most people in this county is a lot of money, most of our jurors, and she has done that on the basis of a false allegation and has persisted in that false allegation."

Then I read the longer, updated AP piece from MSNBC.

The state Victims' Compensation Fund is financed with fees paid by people convicted of crimes. It is used to cover crime victims' medical and mental health treatment, funeral or burial costs and other related needs. State law caps overall compensation to $20,000 for any single victim or victim’s dependents.

Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and visiting professor at the University of Denver law school, said she doesn't believe compensation funds have ever been an incentive for somebody to lie to obtain services.

"If someone were physically injured and required surgery or had to get new glasses or get new locks on their doors, compensation would go to help with that," Steinhauser said. "The fact that her injuries may be more psychological shouldn’t make it so that this now gets used against her."

Of course, this makes the money sound very different. It's one thing to receive something like a windfall from the crime lottery, to spend on any frivolity; it's quite another to receive state aid in restoring home, health or peace of mind after suffering an assault. If Bryant's accuser cannot succeed in proving her case, even in the lower-standard-of-proof civil courts, she ought to have psychological therapy, whether it helps her survive the assault or (if the assault did not occur) helps her realize that her complaint was not legally true.

I mostly avoid the news about celebrity trials and missing white females, despite their popularity in the media, because these stories rarely mean anything. The drug addiction of Robert Downey Jr., the murder of Jon Benet Ramsay, are merely unfortunate, not important; for outsiders, they have little or no lasting significance.

O.J. Simpson's trial was interesting mainly because of the judge's loss of control -- a mistake that District Judge Terry Ruckriegle, who presides over the Bryant trial, seems to be repeating.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle released a partial transcript of the closed-door hearing after being pressured by the Colorado Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to settle a First Amendment fight with the media. A transcript of closed hearings on June 21-22 was mistakenly e-mailed to seven media organizations, including The Associated Press. All held off on publishing the contents while they challenged a contempt of court threat from the judge.

Ruckriegle did not release the June 21 transcript in its entirety and no details at all from the June 22 hearing, which focused on the accuser’s sexual activities around the time of her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers star.

A sealed filing in the case also was mistakenly released Wednesday. The order, which included the accuser’s name, appeared on a Web site where public filings are posted as a convenience to court staff and the media.

Yes, the day has come when we see "Kobe Bryant" and "Stephen Breyer" in the same news stories.

July 30, 2004 05:54 AM | TrackBack
Comments

If Bryant's accuser cannot succeed in proving her case, even in the lower-standard-of-proof civil courts, she ought to have psychological therapy, whether it helps her survive the assault or (if the assault did not occur) helps her realize that her complaint was not legally true.

Similarly, it's rational for a victim to be compensated if the crime can not be prosecuted for other reasons: defendent flees the jurisdiction, defendant incompetent to stand trial, defendant is dead, and so on.

The timing matters, too. A victim's physical and mental treatment would most be needed right after the crime occurred, and that's when hospitals and doctors want their money. Waiting until the end of a criminal trial (when was this assault, two years ago?) for the money to pay for treatment defeats the purpose.

Posted by: David Weigel at July 30, 2004 07:48 AM
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