Criminal Procedure

Rape Victim Sues Judge Over R-Word Ban


An alleged acquaintance-rape victim has sued the Nebraska judge who banned her from using the word “rape” in testimony, in what her lawyer describes as a troubling trend.

A federal lawsuit filed in Lincoln contends Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront violated Tory Bowen’s rights of due process and free speech by banning “rape,” “sexual assault,” “victim” and “assailant” from testimony in the November 2006 trial of Pamir Safi, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The trial ended in a hung jury.

As discussed by ABAJournal.com, Cheuvront sought to prevent unfair prejudice. But Bowen (who agreed to use her name) said she couldn’t testify accurately and effectively.

She says she met Safi at a downtown Lincoln bar one night in October 2004, blacked out and awakened the next morning with him on top of her, according to the World-Herald. He says she consented to sex. She says she was too intoxicated to do so.

Bowen’s lawsuit may be a long shot: Clarence Mock, who represents Safi, says federal courts aren’t likely to intervene in a state evidentiary matter.

However, “If attorneys aren’t able to refer to her as a victim and if this person is acquitted, that’s it. He can’t be tried again,” Raneta Lawson Mack, a Creighton University law professor, tells the Omaha paper, explaining that a decision by the federal court before the next trial is “critical … to prevent what could be perceived as a miscarriage of justice.”

Bowen’s lawyer, Wendy Murphy, says such language bans are increasingly common nationwide, but haven’t yet, to her knowledge, been addressed by the federal courts. While witnesses don’t have unrestricted free-speech rights, neither do judges have free rein to restrict their language, she tells the Lincoln Journal Star. “This case raises the question: ‘Where do you draw the line?’ “

(Hat tip: How Appealing.)

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