A Wayne County woman was recently arrested for falsely telling police she was picked up by a man she met on a dating app, who blindfolded her, kidnapped her and raped her. She later admitted she fabricated these allegations because she was angry at the man for refusing to give her a ride home.
Another Wayne County man faces charges that he falsely reported that his 3-week-old child had been sexually assaulted by a male friend. He gave a written statement that he witnessed this happen to his child, but later told police he made it up because he was angry at his friend.
In Connecticut, a college student was recently sentenced to a year in jail for falsely reporting being raped by two college football players at an off-campus party. She later admitted she fabricated the rape accusations so she wouldn’t lose a potential boyfriend.
In these cases, police were able to detect false allegations, but all too often innocent people have been convicted and imprisoned for sexual crimes they didn’t commit.
Over a 25-year period, I reviewed prisoners’ innocence claims for the Judicial Process Commission in Rochester and I became involved in several cases in which I concluded the prisoners were actually innocent. To cite two of these cases:
Al, a Vietnam veteran, was convicted of raping a 10-year-old Fresh Air Program girl hosted in his household. All the physical evidence, some of which was not examined at trial, was either inconclusive or exculpatory. The jury didn’t know that Al passed a polygraph test or that former hosts of the child were not permitted to testify that the girl made false accusations. Physicians and nurses who examined the girl shortly after her accusations observed no physical or emotional trauma, and reported they were “unsure if the assault was real or imaginative.” Nevertheless, Al was incarcerated for 18 years and is now a registered sex offender.
In another case, Richard was imprisoned for 20 years following his conviction of rape, kidnapping and assault. I concluded that highly questionable performances by Richard’s defense attorney and the prosecutor’s tendency to brush aside evidence that the alleged victim’s accusations were unfounded led to an unjust verdict, lengthy imprisonment and the stigma of being a registered sex offender for an innocent man.
The trial attorney refused to play for the jury numerous taped conversations between Richard and the alleged victim, including a conversation the day after the alleged rape in which she expressed her love for Richard. The attorney also refused to call the jury’s attention to numerous love letters the alleged victim sent to Richard. Two weeks before the alleged crimes, she sent Richard a valentine, “I know I love you. I know we will make it together forever.” These communications were crucial to Richard’s defense that this former girlfriend contrived her accusations because he ended their relationship.
The attorney also refused to call to the witness stand several defense witnesses, including an acquaintance of the alleged victim who was prepared to testify that the alleged victim admitted to her that the accusations against Richard were “exaggerated.”
A polygraph expert reported that Richard’s polygraph results corroborated Richard’s innocence claims.
Police are usually prevented from asking people who they suspect lied when they claimed they were sexually assaulted to take a lie detector test. But if the police suspect false reporting of other crimes, they can ask alleged victims or witnesses to take a lie detector test.
Over the years, I have also talked with many people who were victims of rape or other forms of sexual molestation who will go to their graves without ever having received justice for the crimes they were victimized by. I believe that most people imprisoned for sex crimes did commit the crimes they were convicted of and that every sexual predator not held accountable is one sexual predator too many.
By the same token, every person who is falsely accused or wrongly convicted of sexual crimes (or any other crimes) is one victim of injustice too many.
“Liberty and justice for all” should mean, among other things, that the standards of evidence, investigation and truth finding in dealing with alleged sexual crimes should be neither no greater than nor no less than the standards used to resolve other crimes.
And the existing standards of justice for all crimes need to be improved in order to have a judicial system we can be proud of. In future articles, I will discuss how and why I became involved in cases of people I believe were wrongly convicted of murder, and why I believe New York and other states need to follow the example of North Carolina, which has a state-supported Innocence Inquiry Commission to address the problem of wrongful convictions.
Joel Freedman, of Canandaigua, is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.