Criminal Justice

Top Neb. Court OKs 90-Day Contempt Term for Claimed Rape Victim, But Prosecutor May Use Discretion


Upholding a trial judge’s power to compel a witness to testify, the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday said a Kansas woman who says she was raped at age 7 can be jailed for 90 days if she refuses to cooperate with the prosecution of the case.

However, the court noted that there may well be a better way to handle the situation, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

“We observe that the fact that the state may compel [the woman] to testify does not necessarily mean that it should,” wrote Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Stephan. “But that question must be left to the judgment and discretion of the prosecutor.”

Without the woman’s testimony concerning the claimed 17-year-old crime, it appears likely that defendant Glen Riensche, now 63, will not be prosecuted. He pleaded not guilty and is out on bond.

The woman initially cooperated with authorities after her mother reported the long-ago crime in 2010, but now says she and her family would be humiliated by testifying; Lancaster County District Court Judge Paul Merritt said her feelings were outweighed by the need to see justice done.

County Attorney Joe Kelly is still considering what to do now. While it was important for his office to take a stand against a claim that a crime victim can decide whether or not to testify, he said, his office will “respectfully listen to and talk with our victim” before determining how to handle the case.

Attorney Randall Wertz represents the now-25-year-old woman. He could not immediately be reached for comment. Advocacy groups for women are concerned that either forcing her to testify or jailing her could deter sex crime victims from coming forward.

Hat tip: Associated Press

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Threatens Alleged Rape Victim with Contempt and 90 Days in Jail if She Refuses to Testify”

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