The trial of Koby Bryant will give birth to some fearsome issues. Today the accusative female finger has become more powerful than a gun. (Perhaps it should be registered.) The well intentioned Shield Law envisioned the protection of innocent women who were raped and then raped again by zealous defense attorneys who stripped naked the victim’s sex life from infancy on, encounter at a time, and left her life to be chortled over by a voyeuristic, debauchery-craving public. The sexual history of a woman ought not be permitted as a defense in any case. The harlot is entitled to the same protection as the saint. Neither should suffer rape at the hands of a fiend. But fiends come in all forms and abound in both sexes.
I like it that the identity of the alleged victim cannot be released to the media. I like it because the media is the ultimate fiend, motivated as it is by neither truth or justice but by the vicissitudes of business alone. The very accusation in the Bryant case has stirred that monster into a feeding frenzy, the rich and well loved hero laid out on the sacrificial alter(not for the benefit of justice but for the insatiable needs of the media that feeds an insatiable American audience with its pedestrian, prurient tastes.
Bryant has not yet been tried. The complaining witness has yet to take an oath and testify. But Bryant, guilty or innocent, has already been destroyed. If he is acquitted many will believe it the work of fancy lawyers who outwitted the system or that an outgunned prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. No child will ever look up to Koby Bryant as before. Many a previous fan will see him as the guy who got away but has the effrontery to still appear on the basketball court to rake in his millions. And, of course, if he is found guilty he will have been dropped into the depths of hell from which, guilty or innocent, he can never fully extricate himself. If we are to be consistent and, indeed, fair, the law should provide that the identity of both the accused and the accuser be kept confidential until the trial, and that, as in England, the media be barred until after the case has been tried and the verdict rendered.
Does the Shield Law rise up so that a complete defense, including reasonable doubt, disappears into the judicial vapor? At trial the prosecution will argue that the jury needn’t take the accuser’s word alone because her injuries will be blown up on the six feet tall in-court screen for all to see. Under current law, will the defendant be permitted to inquire how she came by these injuries? May she have acquired them from others in previous engagements as suggested by the defense’s questioning at Bryant preliminary hearing? To raise such an issue the defense must first file a motion and the judge must find the facts cited in the motion as credible and relevant. At last, even if innocent, there is no defense for Mr. Bryant except his word against hers, and in this milieu he will be forced to take the stand which vitiates his rights under the Fifth Amendment.
Women have rights that should be protected. But men are citizens with rights as well. The Koby Bryant case will likely solidify how we as a nation deal with sex crimes from here on out. Beyond the Bryant case, how, does any man in his romantic excursions protect himself against false claims against which the law provides no defense? Are chaperons of unimpeachable character now in order? A tape recorder, a hidden camera in the ceiling? We, women and men alike, need protection against unlawful assaults against our persons or our reputations. But today’s protection afforded women tends to destroy the right of innocent men to protect themselves.
For many years now a sort of war has been waged between the sexes. Half of our marriages end in divorce. As in battle, the relationship between men and women has become stressed. The Koby Bryant case will no doubt exacerbate the conflict. The media will have its day, and its say, and, win or lose, neither Koby Bryant nor his young woman accuser will ever fully recover. Let us hope that we, the rest of America, are not dragged down to new, dangerous places from which we, too, cannot return.
Trial lawyer, founder of Trial Lawyer’s College;defended Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, did the Karen Silkwood case, and defended Imelda Marcos in your city; author of fourteen books, the latest, Smoking Gun, (Scribners.)