In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and sexual assault scandal, more and more women are coming out of the woodwork with stories of humiliating and horrifying encounters of unwanted sexual advances and/or sexual assault. The Internet is flooded with such stories. Stemming from casual encounters to long-term relationships, women victims are speaking up against their male perpetrators. But are all of their stories true? The impact of social media on the law can further justice (if the allegations are true), but it can also result in a miscarriage of justice (if the allegations are fabricated).
The presumption of guilt is antithetical to our foundation of “due process of law” under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, which are supposed to guarantee the accused a “presumption of innocence.” Yet, the social media and the resulting public opinion can (and do) taint the judicial process, making it difficult (if not impossible) for the accused to receive this fundamental Constitutional protection (not to mention a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment).
More often than not, the accused is presumed guilty (not innocent) under the law until he/she is proven innocent (rather than guilty) beyond any reasonable doubt. Although the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt rests with the prosecution, in reality the accused is the one who must (and ends up having to) prove his innocence. This daunting task becomes alarming for the defense attorney when her client is falsely accused. The “he said, she said” contest becomes more than a finger-pointing match. It becomes a grueling legal battle, fiercely fighting to vindicate (and preserve the freedom for) the falsely accused.
Having represented many innocent clients, I know first-hand that the system is imperfect. In 2012, I obtained a dismissal for an innocent man falsely charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, after years of local, state, federal and international sting operations and investigations. When the criminal case ended, the accusers sought $35 million in a civil lawsuit. The nightmare did not end, but justice was served when, in 2015, a Los Angeles jury of 12 men and women returned a 12-0 unanimous verdict for my innocent client after a lengthy, 5-week trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Scars remain, not only for my innocent client, but also for his entire family.
Many innocent men (and women) are accused and charged with the sex crimes they did not commit. In the compelling book, Picking Cotton, an innocent man was convicted (based purely on the victim’s testimony) and spent over 10 years in prison for the rape he did not commit. The Innocent Project has hundreds of such heartbreaking stories.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault find their origin in male narcissism and violence. And women victims should and must fight those male predators who continue to target helpless women to feed their disturbing egos and violent impulses. The sheer number of women coming forward against Harvey Weinstein is disturbing. But, we must not forget that the grave danger of linking the Harvey Weinstein scandal to other civil and/or criminal cases involving allegations of sexual assault is that an innocent defendant (man or a woman) will not be able to receive his/her fundamental Constitutional right to “due process of law” and a fair trial. Like the innocent man in Picking Cotton and other similar stories, we must guard the presumption of innocence and not prejudge the accused.
By Susan Yu
© 2017 Susan Yu Law Group, APC