This is a bigger issue than Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh – rights of alleged victims, rights of alleged wrongdoers, witness credibility, evidence, burdens and presumptions, and due process in a time of 24/7 argument, opinions and accusations

I am forwarding the following post from my blog http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

This is a bigger issue than Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh – rights of alleged victims, rights of alleged wrongdoers or perpetrators, witness credibility, burdens of proof, presumptions, veracity of evidence, etc., are all needed in this time of 24/7 social argument, opinions and accusations – due process

For the most part discussions about due process are significantly lacking in this time of 24/7 social argument, opinions and accusations. And as a result, what you end up with are largely subjective arguments and opinions, based sometimes on evidence that appears solid but often based on incomplete facts or assertions, speculation, hyperbole, misinformed or uninformed or unqualified speakers or storytellers, or constructive misrepresentations or fraud.

Whereas, and for good reasons, there are rules to be followed as guideposts in a court of law, clearly that is not true in the case of 24/7 social argument, opinions and accusations. This would be a good time for renewed emphasis on rules and techniques for debate, and legal rules of evidence, burdens of proof, presumptions, rights of alleged victims and rights of alleged perpetrators, in addition to professionalism in journalism (such as the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics  https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp).

For example, as general principles:

1.  An alleged victim has to prove his or her case the specified claims of wrongdoing with credible evidence;

2.  An alleged wrongdoer or perpetrator is entitled to know the specific claims and evidence that are asserted against her or him;

3.  An alleged wrongdoer or perpetrator is presumed innocent of the claims made, and is entitled to present her or his case and defenses to the specific claims with credible evidence, and to present evidence to rebut or impeach the alleged victim and his or her specific claims and evidence (and yes, the alleged wrongdoer can become a victim if the allegations made are unfounded); and

4.  Unless there is a law or legal principle that switches the burden of proof, the standard is that the alleged victim is the party who is first required to establish his or her case and specific claims with credible evidence, and, generally, an alleged wrongdoer or perpetrator is not required to establish her or his case or defenses to the specific claims until the alleged victim first sustains his or her burden of proof.

If a party, including an alleged victim or an alleged wrongdoer or perpetrator, presents weaker or less satisfactory evidence when it is within the power of that party to produce stronger and more satisfactory evidence, there is or can be a presumption or an inference that the evidence offered should be viewed with distrust.

In addition to the actual evidence presented (testimony and documents), the credibility of witnesses and evidence (testimony and documents) is of key importance.

See, for example, California Evidence Code §780:

Except as otherwise provided by statute, the court or jury may consider in determining the credibility of a witness any matter that has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of her or his testimony at the hearing, including but not limited to any of the following:

(a) Her or his demeanor while testifying and the manner in which she or he testifies.

(b) The character of her or his testimony.

(c) The extent, including causes and symptoms, of her or his capacity or impairment to perceive, to recollect, or to communicate any matter about which she or he testifies – including, for example, the passage of time since the date of the alleged incident, and, in most situations, evidence of a witness’s mental or emotional stability or instability.

(d) The extent of her of his opportunity to perceive any matter about which she or he testifies.

(e) Her or his character for honesty or truthfulness or for dishonesty or untruthfulness.

(f) The existence or nonexistence of a bias, interest, or other motive.

(g) A statement previously made by her or him that is consistent with her or his testimony at the hearing.

(h) A statement made by her or him that is inconsistent with any part of her or his testimony at the hearing.

(i) The existence or nonexistence of any fact testified to by her or him.

(j) Her or his attitude toward the action in which she or he testifies or toward the giving of testimony.

(k) Her or his admission of untruthfulness.

See also Federal Rules of Evidence Rules 402, 608 and 613.

The failure to report an alleged occurrence or to communicate about an alleged occurrence also could imply that an event did not occur or occurred differently and could in that manner attack the witness’s credibility and truthfulness; however, generally the opportunity exists to explain the failure to report or to communicate about an alleged occurrence, and that failure does not create a presumption or an inability to testify, unless, perhaps, there is a requirement that the witness report the occurrence, which in that instance, also could present a per se violation of law. 

Thanks for reading. David Tate

 

 

 

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