Evidence

Asked to Release All Texts on Claimed Crime Victim's Cellphone, Mont. Judge OKs Limited Disclosure


Although Montana has what a state court judge describes as some of the most stringent privacy laws in the country, that didn’t prevent a defendant in a high-profile felony sexual-intercourse-without-consent case from gaining access to information on the claimed victim’s cellphone.

An opinion (PDF) last week by Missoula County District Judge Karen S. Townsend says police downloaded approximately 29,000 texts that had been sent and received after the woman acquiesced to their request that she turn over the device. Then the court had to decide what to do with the texts.

Defendant Jordan Johnson, a former University of Montana football team quarterback, was suspended from the team after the Feb. 4, 2012 incident at a private home that is at issue in the case. Both he and the complaining witness continue to attend classes, subject to a no-contact order. He says sex between the two was consensual, making at least some of the text messages on the claimed victim’s phone arguably relevant, according to the Billings Gazette.

However, the judge in her order refused defense requests to release further texts to the defense beyond what it had already received. Townsend did tell the state, which had reviewed all of the texts, to list the names and addresses of those with whom the claimed victim had communicated.

The opinion and the article don’t make clear what the exact circumstances were concerning the earlier disclosure of the text messages. Prior news coverage by the Associated Press and KTVQ indicates that the prosecution was reviewing the text messages early on, apparently taking for granted that some disclosure to the defense would be required, even as those on the state’s side of the case worried that the claimed victim was being put on trial.

A month or so after Johnson was charged, however, battle lines had been drawn, according to the Missoulian, and the state was asking the court to put the text messages under seal while the defense was asking the court to dismiss the case if the state didn’t turn over all relevant evidence. In addition to the text messages, the defense sought the claimed victim’s medical and school records back to the time when she was 5 years old.

An earlier Billings Gazette article reports that Suzy Boylan, who serves as assistant chief deputy attorney for Missoula County, said the woman initially agreed to spend some time with Johnson and watch a movie with him that evening after he sent her a text message.

She alleges that he eventually forced her to have sex after she repeatedly said no, the newspaper article reports. At that point, according to Boylan, she texted a roommate “Omg … I think I might have just gotten raped … he kept pushing and pushing and I said no but he wouldn’t listen … I just wanna cry … Omg what do I do!”

Another Associated Press article reported that U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education investigators were probing a claimed lack of response by authorities on campus and in the city of Missoula to reports of sex crimes.

Texts between students and university administrators involved in the investigation also were being sought by Johnson’s defense lawyers, the AP article says.

A trial in the sex-crime case against Johnson is scheduled for February.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Plaintiffs in EEOC Suit Must Turn Over Cellphones and Facebook Account Passwords, Judge Rules”

Missoulian: “Grizzly QB Jordan Johnson charged with rape”

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