Insult and Injury

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Insult and Injury

Oddly enough, I think that this decision by the Third Circuit was correct (pdf). A news story about the case is here.

A woman was drugged by two men and taken to a house belonging to a sister of one of the men. There, they raped her. When she came to, they forced her out of the house and then left. She went to neighbors' houses for help but received none. She then returned to the house where she had been raped and broke a window to get back into the house to retrieve her clothing. She also took a number of other items, ostensibly to enable her to establish the identity of her attackers.

The woman went to the hospital later that day and reported having been raped. The hospital followed the usual procedures, examining the woman for injuries consistent with rape and gathering physical evidence. The next day, she reported the alleged rape to the police. She told the police about her having broken into the house and gave them the things she had taken. The police began investigating the rape charge.

Meanwhile, the sister of her attacker, who owned the house, found the broken window and reported a burglary. A burglary investigation was commenced.

The two officers handling the respective investigations learned early on about each other's cases. Even so, the officer handling the burglary investigation swore out an affidavit of probable cause, which was approved by an assistant DA, to arrest the alleged rape victim for burglary and lesser offenses. Shortly after that, the officer in charge of the rape investigation decided there was no foundation for the charge and closed the case. The woman was arrested and charged with burglary and the lesser charges.

The case against the woman was dismissed when the owner of the house failed to show up at a preliminary hearing.

A few months later, in response to complaints from women's groups and victims about how the Philadelphia police department handled sexual assualt cases, the department reopened some investigations, including this one. The police found that DNA taken from the alleged victim at the hospital matched one of the men she had accused (the brother of the house's owner). Soon thereafter, the men were arrested, and they both later pleaded guilty to something (the Third Circuit opinion doesn't say whether the charge was rape, assault, kidnapping, or something else).

The woman then filed a civil rights suit against the police officers and the department for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The Third Circuit, reversing the trial judge, held that there was no false arrest or malicious prosecution because, at the time of the arrest, the police had probable cause to believe the woman was guilty of criminal trespass.

The lesson: law, like life, is not always fair. I hope the officers at least said they were sorry.

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