Recently, the news and social media have been flooded with coverage about the Supreme Court nomination hearings concerning Judge Kavanaugh and the sexual assault accusations made against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Similarly, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of raping a woman at the Palms Hotel in 2009. Regarding the women’s accusations, many people have commented, quite forcefully at times, that “An accusation is not evidence!” or “There is no corroboration so he’s not guilty!” To be clear, these statements are misleading at best, and completely false at worse. The purpose of this Blog Post is not to take sides on whether Judge Kavanaugh or Ronaldo raped anybody. Rather, the point is to make clear what Nevada law says on the subject and what a criminal defense attorney can do about it.
First, the testimony (i.e., the accusation) of an alleged sexual assault victim is evidence. In general, it’s the same type of evidence as when a defendant testifies, a police officer testifies, or an eyewitness testifies. It’s also the same type of evidence as a video of the crime or a document relating to the crime that is admitted into evidence. What this means is that a jury is free to believe it, not believe it, or do something in between by giving it the amount of weight the jury believes it should get.
Of course, some pieces of evidence described above are stronger than others. But, overall, they are all equally admissible for a jury to consider. Importantly, like all pieces of evidence, an alleged victim’s testimony is subject to attack on cross-examination by a defense attorney for issues relating to bias, motive, interest, etc. Additionally, the alleged victim’s testimony is subject to attack on cross-examination for issues dealing with that witness’s perception, memory, ability to recall, etc.
Second, and most shocking to people, is the fact that the testimony of an alleged rape victim (if believed by 12 jurors)—without any other evidence proving the allegation— is enough to convict a person of sexual assault. Stated differently, the victim’s “uncorroborated testimony” is enough to convict a person of rape. In fact, in sexual assault trials in Nevada, a jury is given an instruction by the judge stating exactly that.
So what can be done? In sexual assault cases, where the only evidence is the alleged victim’s allegation, it is of the upmost importance for a defense attorney to perform an exhaustive investigation of the case, and, in particular, of the alleged victim. A proper and aggressive defense must seek to find a reason why the alleged victim is either mistaken or lying. Reasons like bias, motive, memory issues, etc.
At the Nobles & Yanez Law Firm, we have successfully handled hundreds of sexual assault cases. Please contact our office immediately to set up a consultation if you are facing such a legal problem or if we can be of assistance in any other legal matter.