Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rape victims can't be sued, appeals court rules

This ruling sets a chilling precedent.

The woman...is immune from civil prosecution for her testimony, even if she testified falsely, the appeals court ruled.

So, what this means is that the victim of a false rape accusation has no entitlement to recompense against his accuser. This appeals court has just made false rape accusations even more tempting for persons so inclined, as it will have even fewer repercussions.

Federal appeals court overturns decision to create landmark case.

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

In what's described as a precedent-setting case, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a man who courts determined was wrongfully convicted of a 1990 rape can't sue the woman who accused him.

A lawyer for the woman said the published opinion by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals means rape victims can tell their stories without fear of being sued.

"We certainly see this as a victory both for her and for all rape victims similarly situated," said Sarah Prout, managing attorney with Lakeshore Legal Aid, which has offices in Clinton Township and Port Huron. "It really is a landmark case."

The appeals court reversed a federal judge's ruling in Detroit and threw out 21 of Jeffrey Moldowan's claims in a federal lawsuit he filed in 2005. The Detroit News normally does not report the names of sexual assault victims.

The woman, who was severely and permanently injured in the attack, is immune from civil prosecution for her testimony, even if she testified falsely, the appeals court ruled.

Although the woman's identification of Moldowan, a former boyfriend, as one of her attackers "was critical to the Macomb County Prosecutor's decision to prosecute him, her statements were only part of a broader, independent investigation," the appeals court ruled in a published opinion.

"Victims of crime, especially the types of crime that occurred here, must feel secure that cooperating with the police will not expose them to lengthy and invasive civil proceedings," which "re-exposes them to significant emotional trauma." Such victims should have absolute immunity from civil litigation for their testimony, the appeals court ruled.

Moldowan, 37, who spent 12 years in prison for the rape and assault before he was acquitted in a new trial in 2003, is suing the city of Warren, police officers involved in the case, a discredited bite mark expert who testified at his trial, Wayne County prosecutors and the Jane Doe who accused him.

The appeals court also threw out Moldowan's conspiracy claims, his perjury and malicious prosecution claims against the Warren detective who headed up the investigation, and destruction of evidence claims against another Warren officer.

The court ruled Moldowan can still pursue his claims that a Warren police detective unlawfully withheld exculpatory evidence, that Warren did not properly train its police officers, and that the bite mark expert, Alan Warnick, fabricated evidence.

Michael Dezsi of the Fieger law firm, who represented Moldowan on the appeal, said Moldowan will now "focus on holding the city of Warren, its police officers, and its agents accountable for violating Mr. Moldowan's constitutional rights by withholding, destroying and fabricating evidence in order to secure a bogus conviction."