As a criminal defense attorney, I'm concerned about the potential impact that the Me Too movement may have on clients accused of serious crimes like sexual assault. In Maine, if you're convicted of the crime of Gross Sexual Assault, depending on the circumstances, you can be punished by up to 30 years in prison. For some people, that ends up being a slow death sentence because they may never see the other side of the prison wall before they die.
The #MeToo movement is an important one and is shedding a much-needed light on survivors of sexual assaults. With the recent news, we've come to learn that actors, movie producers, US Senators, and even a nominee for the US Supreme Court have been accused of heinous acts against women. Many of these men have accepted responsibility as the evidence against them was overwhelming.
But what about the men who may be innocent? How does this new movement affect juries and judges and their views of these cases? One of the concerns is with all of the high publicity of sexual assault cases proliferating the media is that juries will be poisoned against those who stand accused. Is this a valid concern you ask? Well, I think it's too early to tell as this movement began in 2017. However, for any cases that are going to trial, the juries will have to be questioned extensively about their knowledge of the movement and their exposure to social media and news stories surrounding sexual assault victims. Anytime something is reported on repeatedly by the media, it adds an air of legitimacy to the topic that permeates down to juries. That's a long-winded way of saying that juries may be more likely to believe a victim of sexual assault now vs. how they may have viewed that person 18 months ago.
The bigger question now is will more victims come forward who were truly the victims of sexual assault. A big fear amongst victims is that their claims would be brushed off or that they'd be subjected to further shame and humiliation by the legal system. Prior to the high-profile Senate Confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I would say it was more likely that women would report a sexual assault, no matter how long ago it may have happened. But with how the GOP has handled the Kavanaugh hearing and the way our President has castigated Dr. Ford, women may indeed be more reticent to report a sexual assault.
Time will tell what, if any impact that the #MeToo era and Kavanaugh hearings have on future reporting numbers for sexual assault. Experience with our jury system will also tell us if juries are more likely to believe or blame a victim for his/her circumstances. It's up to the defense attorney to keep fighting the good fight and ensuring that any social trends are taken into consideration when defending these cases.