Sexual assault cases are rarely open-and-shut procedures. Like any other criminal case, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did all the things his or her accuser alleges. This burden of proof typically involves providing both testimony and physical evidence, but in some cases these can be difficult to get. If the alleged victim is unwilling to cooperate, the prosecution must find other ways to convince a jury of the defendant's guilt.
In some cases procedural rules related to evidence can tie up criminal proceedings, such as in the high-profile sexual assault case against one of the heirs to SC Johnson, a fifth-generation family company based in Racine, Wisconsin. The 57-year-old defendant is accused of sexually assaulting his teenage stepdaughter repeatedly over the course of three years. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case after prosecutors filed an appeal to a lower court's decision regarding evidence in the case. The trial has been put on hold until February, when the state's high court will take up the case.
At issue is whether the defendant's accuser should be allowed to testify without agreeing to release her medical records. In April a Court of Appeals ruled that she cannot take the stand until she agrees to provide the records, which defense attorneys requested several months ago. A Racine County circuit judge ruled last autumn that he would review the records privately in his chambers and provide any relevant information to both the defense and the prosecution, a process known as an "in camera" review. But the girl and her mother have refused to turn them over.
The state Supreme Court will decide whether to allow the girl to provide testimony without releasing her medical records, which could set a precedent for future sexual assault cases in the state. If allowed, her testimony could sway a jury to convict the defendant without any physical proof that a crime took place. Regardless of whether this defendant is guilty, those accused in future cases could have a harder time defending themselves against false accusations.
Source: The Journal Times, "Arguments in Curt Johnson case to go before state Supreme Court in February," Kristen Zambo, Dec. 14, 2012
- Our firm handles the criminal defense of those accused of sex crimes and other offenses. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Wisconsin sex crimes defense page.