A look at 168 sexual assault allegations against athletes in the past 12 years suggests sports figures fare better than do defendants from the general population, reports USA Today. Of 168 allegations involving 164 athletes, only 22 went go to trial and only six resulted in convictions. In 46 others, a plea agreement was reached. The athletes had a 32 percent conviction rate in the resolved cases. More than two thirds were never charged, saw the charges dropped, or were acquitted. “Almost the exact opposite would be true in the normal course of business,” says Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County, Ca., chief assistant district attorney.
National data suggest that most ordinary defendants charged with sexual assault are punished. Te U.S. Department of Justice tracked rape charges in the nation’s 75 largest counties and found 52 percent of defendants in 586 cases were convicted of rape and 14 percent were convicted of some other crime, either at trial or through pleas.
“It’s not surprising that it’s a relatively low conviction rate” for prominent athletes, says Linda Fairstein, former head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York. “These are cases where frequently even if the claim is legitimate there is enormous pressure on the victim not to press charges, that you’re ruining his career.” Also, because of their celebrity or wealth, athletes can be targets for false allegations.
In the Kobe Bryant rape case in Colorado, State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle is expected to keep the media circus outside the courthouse doors, says the Christian Science Monitor. Ruckriegle is a very cautious, careful, and deliberate judge,” says Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson. “He’s very demanding of counsel. Lawyers have to come to court prepared. They need legal justification for any position they take – or they can expect to pay the consequences.”
Bryant appeared before Ruckriegle in a pretrial hearing in Eagle on Friday. The judge said wants more time to reflect on the issue of the accuser’s medical records. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Legal analysts predict that Ruckriegle, a former prosecutor, will ensure integrity of the legal process. “This won’t be a circus,” says Mike Goodbee, Colorado’s deputy attorney general for criminal justice. The judge has been responsive to public interest in the Bryant case, and displays a desire to accommodate the media. Says Denver lawyer Craig Silverman: “I think the public will get more access to pretrial information than would be typical.”
On Friday, Ruckriegle said the parties had not “addressed the issue of a standard for determining whether closure (of a hearing on her medical history) was appropriate.” The Rocky Mountain News says the Bryant defense argues that his alleged victim, a 19-year-old woman, waived a privilege of confidentiality on her medical records by discussing her condition with her mother and friends. The material is important, the defense says, because it includes two attempted suicides in the months preceding the alleged June 30 sexual assault, incidents they say were aimed at grabbing the attention of an ex-boyfriend. John Clune, an attorney for the alleged victim, wants any hearing to take place without the media and public present. Prosecutors agree. Tom Kelley, representing 11 media organizations. argued that a hearing should occur in open court. Ruckriegle told lawyers to submit briefs to help him resolve the issue.