First, accused rapist Luis Munuzuri-Harris insisted on representing himself in a Florida court. He insisted on conducting his own two-hour cross-examination of the woman who brought the charges against him. Then, suddenly Harris decided, actually, I'm going to take that lawyer you offered me. Who can interrogate the victim a second time.
"For a rape victim to not just recite, but relive the actual crime with the person who inflicted the crime upon her is the biggest deterrent you can have," commented legal analyst Judge Jeanine Pirro. "This is a nightmare. There are victims who have tried to kill themselves, who have collapsed after testifying." Furthermore, of Harris' decision to now use a lawyer who can make the woman describe her rape a second time, she states, "We know that predators like to relive their sex crimes. It gives them an opportunity to relive that moment with the victim again." These are all profoundly disturbing thoughts.
In a recent case in Florida, a young woman faced with cross-examination by the man who raped her as a child threatened to commit suicide. The case was resolved by dropping her charges against the rapist. (He was convicted of multiple counts of child rape by other victims.)
Essentially, if you are in fact guilty of rape, it makes perfect sense to insist on representing yourself at trial: it puts you in a position of power over your victim, as was the case with the original assault, and can intimidate her out of testifying and traumatize her yet again. And since rapists get off on asserting power over another human being, this courtroom interrogation gives them a new opportunity. In this Florida case, the fact that Harris decided he wanted a lawyer immediately after grilling the woman he's accused of raping raises red flags that he had exactly this in mind, and once he'd gotten he way, he had no reason not to take advantage of his right to legal representation.
In Washington, Rep. Roger Goodman has introduced a bill that would protect victims from being questioned by their rapists. While people raise concerns about constitutional protections for defendants to confront witnesses, Goodman (himself a lawyer) is confident that defendants' right to a fair trial can be protected and the constitutional issue avoiding while saving victims from the "torture" of being interrogated by their rapists, and has done his homework by meeting with a number of court officials, including the state Supreme Court chief justice.
Florida lawmakers must introduce a similar bill to protect victims from the trauma of being questioned on the stand by the very person who raped them. It's a miscarriage of justice to do otherwise, and to allow victims to be frightened out of their charges or pushed toward suicide by putting them into this position.
Photo credit: Mira66