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Should victims be forced to come forward and testify in criminal cases?
In a highly charged legal situation, prosecutors in Sacramento County, California have placed a 17-year-old alleged rape victim in detention for failing to testify against the man accused of raping her in court.
Victims’ advocacy groups are up in arms over this decision, which they argue is highly unusual and could deter other victims of rape or sexual assault from coming forward with information against suspects.
The prosecution team against Frank William Rackley, the accused, concedes that detaining the young girl is extremely rare, but they insist that it’s essential to provide justice and protect the public good. Rackley has a storied criminal past and is suspected of raping another woman as well.
Rackley was identified via a swastika tattoo on his chest by the teenager now in detention, who is the key witness in this case. Her supporters stress that she is scared of confronting her attacker, and that this period of detention will only serve as a punishment she does not deserve.
But is it possible to achieve justice in Rackley’s trial without her involvement? Are prosecutors in Sacramento County overstepping their bounds in forcing this victim to testify? What Constitutional rights do victims have to keep information to themselves? What about the morality of the situation? Is it fair to pit one person’s individual experience against the hypothetical well-being of a community? Can this situation be resolved to benefit all parties involved?
Meg Garvin, Clinical Law Professor and Executive Director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute at Lewis and Clark Law School
John Myers, Professor of Law, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law