Friday, September 03, 2004

A Survivor's Right To Say No

What are the limits of the state's right to go forward with a prosecution, over the objection of the victim?

Consider the following scenarios, and consider who should decide whether to go forward -- the prosecutor or the victim?

1. Alice is the mother of two young children, and her husband repeatedly beats her, often in front of the children. He is arrested, and Alice begs the prosecutor to drop the charges.

In a criminal prosecution, the prosecutor represents the interests of the state, interests that sometimes are inconsistent with the interests of the victim. In this example, Alice may be correct that she will be safer not cooperating with the prosecutor's efforts to incarcerate her husband. In the event he is acquitted, he may retaliate against her for her cooperation.

As a competent adult, should she be allowed to decide what is in her best interests? What about the interests of her children? What about the interests of the community to punish a criminal for his unlawful behavior?

2. Beth, 22 years old, is raped by her father, and wants support and counseling, but does not want her father prosecuted. She has a brother and a sister. The prosecutor fears that Beth's siblings have also been victimized by their father, and wants Beth to cooperate in sending her father to prison.

Should the prosecutor be compelled to drop the charges because of Beth's refusal to cooperate, or should the prosecutor compel Beth to testify against her father, to protect her siblings and vindicate her interests? Should the prosecutor subpoena her, and arrest her and incarcerate her for contempt if she refuses to testify? How far should the prosecutor go in forcing the issue?

What do you think? Why?

Please send your responses to mdubin@pobox.com, and we will consider posting the best responses.

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