In many criminal sexual assault cases, there is little physical evidence. Unless the incident occurred at or near a hospital and the alleged victim immediately made a police report, there is usually no rape kit. The physical evidence which is available, such as DNA from bodily fluids, is usually like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Pieces of evidence are not enough to convict a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. To put the pieces together, Ramsey County prosecutors increasingly rely on Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. These nurses are partly sexual assault counsellors and partly forensic evidence examiners.
A quick point here. In civil court, the jury can put circumstantial evidence together and form its own conclusion. But in criminal court, someone must spell things out for the jury. That someone is typically an expert witness, like a SANE or a Breathalyzer technician.
Therefore, it’s important for St. Paul sex crime lawyers to successfully challenging SANE testimony. The following approach does not work in every case, but it does work quite often.
When doctors and most other professionals testify, everyone, including the jury, clearly understands that one side or the other probably paid for their testimony. But SANEs are different. As mentioned, these nurses often sell themselves as sexual assault counselors who stumbled upon some forensic evidence as they helped the victim.
SANEs are not victim advocates, and they are not independent. Most of these nurses work for a state-funded organization. Additionally, the BCA provides SANEs with many of the tools they use during their examinations. And, in most cases, these nurses report directly to law enforcement officials.
This point is important. Nurses have very high trustworthiness ratings among the general public. A SANE’s “victim advocate” role raises this profile even more. Once the jury understands that this nurse is essentially a police detective, that enhanced trustworthiness ends. At that point, the jury is more open to hearing about some other flaws.
When these nurses talk to alleged victims, they assume a sexual assault has occurred. According to Minnesota SANE Coordinator Kristi Jarvis, when these nurses counsel women, they want to “allow them some power and control over their body, because that’s what was taken from them during the assault.” That stance expresses support for victims in general, but it is very bad for legal purposes.
In this context, sexual assault is not just a medical term. It is also a legal term. Nurses are not qualified to give legal opinions, any more than St. Paul sex crime lawyers can diagnose people with cancer. SANEs make no effort to verify or corroborate the alleged victim’s story. They also do not account for things like consent, or the lack thereof. The SANE thinks if this person is in my office, she was raped, and I need to find evidence which supports that conclusion.
There may be no rape kit, but there is still some physical evidence. This evidence normally includes bodily fluids and vaginal injuries.
Often, SANEs collect bodily fluids not from the alleged victim’s own body or clothing, but from a towel or upholstery. With today’s technology, even a tiny drop of fluid can yield conclusive DNA evidence. Additionally, the fluid does not have to be refrigerated or handled with care.
However, bodily fluids that are not on or very near the alleged victim’s body are not very compelling. They prove the defendant was there. But they do not prove the defendant touched the alleged victim. They certainly do not prove that the touch was nonconsensual.
SANE testimony about vaginal injuries is suspect as well. When jurors hear “vaginal injury,” they think “forced sex.” But the injury could be a minor abrasion, which suggests it was unintentional. Additionally, even in a severe injury situation, the SANE cannot testify that the injury is evidence of an assault.
Complicating these things even further, sexual assault victims do not have the same reaction to traumatic events. Some can keep things straight, some are confused, and some make things up. So, even if the alleged victim talks about the alleged assault, that recollection may not be credible. That’s especially true since the SANE is trained to believe everything the alleged victim says.
To bolster their own testimony in this area, some SANEs talk about rape trauma syndrome or something similar. When SANEs wander into such pseudo-science, their testimony becomes inadmissible.
SANEs often testify as experts in criminal sexual assault cases, but their testimony rests on a shaky foundation. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul sex crime lawyer, contact Capitol City Law Group, LLC. Go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.