Prosecuting Sexual Assault
As backlog test results are returned and DNA is matched to perpetrators, the focus on Kentucky's effort to clear its backlog will shift to prosecuting these cold cases.
A subgroup of the DANY grant task force has compiled a guide to assist Commonwealth Attorneys in prosecuting these backlog sexual assault cases.
AEquitas is the preeminent resource for providing technical assistance and training to prosecutors on violence against women cases. It has produced the following training resources for prosecuting sexual assault:
1. Set up a meeting with your partners (law enforcement and advocates) to develop a plan for how to review cases, contact victims, and make decisions about prosecution. If you have an existing SART, you may consider devoting a meeting entirely on this topic. Collaboration is essential.
2. For Commonwealth Attorneys/Supervisors: Sexual Assault cold cases are time-intensive and complex. Consider devoting resources and more than one prosecutor to review and handle cases. If possible, assign a different prosecutor to the cases to ensure that there are “new eyes” on the case.
3. Review existing resources on handling cold cases, including AEquitas Prosecutor Resource on Violence Against Women, aequitasresource.org. Also, contact the Attorney General’s Office of Victims Advocacy for more resources and training on sexual assault prosecution.
4. Use a standardized form or spreadsheet to track results in jurisdictions with a large number of kits.
5. Prepare the most thorough case possible. Pull old reports, including police reports on the suspect and those involving the victim to better understand predatory behavior and vulnerability of victim.
6. Look for other cases involving the perpetrator. There may be uncharged cases in other jurisdictions. Contact other jurisdictions to coordinate possible prosecution if there are multiple victims (serial cases).
7. Consider the timing of prosecution. Balance victim safety and community safety concerns, as well as the most effective way to prosecute a case.
8. Decide how much information to share with the victim, balancing victim need to know with the integrity of the case.
9. Protect victim confidentiality. Sexual assault cold cases may attract public attention, so be prepared to ask victim not to talk to media and to file pre-trial motions to protect against public records requests.
10. Conduct case reviews with entire team: prosecutor, victim advocate, and law enforcement. Ensure that you are focusing on the offender’s actions rather than the victim’s. Encourage engagement of the victim-witness by offering support along the way and taking time with interviews and trial preparation.
11. Remember: the offender targeted the victim because s/he was vulnerable, one whom the offender thought would not be believed. Keep this in mind when making charging and prosecution decisions.
12. Understand that the benefits of this initiative might not be immediately apparent - the importance of this initiative will be more clear over a period of years, and develop further as other jurisdictions undertake similar projects.
“Remember that the offender caused the victimization that is making it so difficult for the victim to participate.” -- Patti Powers, AEquitas, From Investigation to Conviction: Prosecuting Sexual Assault Cold Cases, April 13th, Office of the Attorney General