The evidence against the three teenagers in Orange County, Ca., seemed overwhelming, says the Los Angeles Times: a videotape that prosecutors said captured them sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was knocked out by drugs and alcohol. Still, jurors were persuaded by an aggressive defense that portrayed the girl as a deceitful would-be porn actress. The hung jury last week in the two-month-long gang-rape trial is the latest to provoke debate over how far attorneys should go to defend clients charged with sexual assaults. Like the approaching Kobe Bryant trial, the gang-rape case put the spotlight on the alleged victim – leaving some to think that she was the one on trial.
Sexual-assault experts say that increasingly harsh sentences for rape encourage defense lawyers to stretch the limits of legal ethics to defend those accused of sex crimes. When the tactics are successful it gives defense attorneys in future cases more license to gratuitously attack accusers. “Once you trample boundaries, it becomes OK for the next guy to trample them too,” said Dawn Foor, executive director of the Orange County Sexual Assault Victim Services. Denver defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt said that the public may think defense lawyers are attacking an accuser’s character when instead the issue is credibility. In rape cases that hinge on consent, she said witnesses’ credibility is crucial.