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How Do Prosecutors Prove a Rape Case?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 30, 2019

This is an interesting question because many of the rape cases that we see are one person's word against another's.  That makes it very difficult for the prosecutors to prove the case because the man is going to say one thing, and the woman is going to say another thing, and then it ends up boiling down to the alleged victim's credibility. One of the primary defenses in a rape case is the issue of consent.

The defendant has the presumption of innocence, so it should be a not-guilty verdict if the prosecutors don't put on enough evidence and the person is presumed innocent. The crime of rape is defined under California Penal Code 261.

That said, since the prosecutors know this, they don't like to file many cases in that posture, so they're going to be looking to get some other things to corroborate the alleged victim's story.  Some examples in rape cases that I've seen, and I've been doing this for twenty-five years now, are as follows:

Pre-Text Phone Call

First, they're going to want to see if they can do what's called a pre-text phone call, which means they have the alleged victim call the person that they think perpetrated the rape, confront them with what they did, and hope that they either apologize or admit something or say something that you could infer that they did something wrong.

They tape-record it.  Believe it or not, this is allowed because it's part of the police investigation.  Usually, you could not tape record somebody without that person's permission.  Penal Code Section 632, the eavesdropping Penal Code, says that you're not allowed to do that.  But the police can do that when investigating a sex crime or a rape charge.

Sexual Assault Response Team

Another thing that they can use is a medical expert.  So, if the person got a SART exam where a doctor and a nurse check to see if there's anything consistent with being forcibly raped, there's a whole exam done with pictures.

If any of that is consistent with what the person is saying, obviously that would be good evidence, and they could also call a medical expert like a SART nurse to testify to what they saw, give an opinion as to whether or not they think there's some trauma there, whether or not the person was raped. There must be penetration to be charged with a California rape case.

Prior Sexual-Related Acts

Another thing that I think is very big in today's society as far as rape cases go is Evidence Code Section 1108 evidence, which is prior sex acts of misconduct committed by the defendant.  In this scenario, there doesn't have to be a conviction.

If the person has some prior incident with another person where they attacked them, raped them, sexually assaulted them in any way, the prosecutors will try to get that evidence in to show propensity — meaning to show that person tends to commit sex crimes.

If they're successful — and I can tell you right now from a lot of experience, they're successful a lot of the time — this evidence is very damaging to a defendant in a criminal case.

Witnesses and Physical Evidence

The other examples of evidence are witnesses — anybody that saw anything.  Any physical evidence — photographs, injuries — these are all things that I've seen in rape cases that I've handled.  A lot of this stuff is common sense.  If someone says they punched me in the face and then raped me, and then there's no damage to their face, that would be inconsistent with what they said.

So, the answer to the question as to what evidence the prosecutors are going to get in a rape case is they're going to get whatever they're able to get based on the circumstances of the issues.

Sometimes they can get a lot of evidence, and sometimes they cannot get any proof.  So, we need to use our common sense in these cases and see what would be present if there was rape, and if there's stuff that's missing, that is certainly an argument that the defendant could point out at a jury trial.

Also, someone charged with rape is permitted to testify, and they can say what happened or what didn't happen, depending on the circumstances.

So, in the end, it's going to come down to the credibility of the alleged victim, the credibility of the defendant if the defendant decides to testify, and it's going to come down to how skillful your attorney is in representing you.

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Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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