It's all words. PowerPoint presentations and the occasional dramatic outburst of tears aside, a trial and the laws it considers are just a bunch of words. Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick notes the case of a Nebraska judge who, overseeing a rape trial, has forbidden the use of the words rape, sexual assault, victim, assailant and sexual assault kit from his courtroom. Thus, not only the prosecutors but the victim herself, on the stand, will be forced to refer to herself not as a victim of rape but as, what, a "participant" in "sexual intercourse"?
Apparently the defense sold the idea that "victim" and "rape" are such disturbing words that describing the alleged crime inherently prejudices the jury against the defendant. Or that the defendant's word is already so suspect she shouldn't be allowed to speak of the "alleged"
crime activity. While stories of wacky judges making head-scratching (or, say, morally outrageous and patently offensive) rulings are not uncommon, Lithwick takes it a step further to find a disturbingly Orwellian undercurrent. She talks to one expert who describes this case as:
part of a growing trend on the part of the defense bar to scrub the language of trial courts, one that has "really blossomed after the Kobe Bryant trial." The big shifts she's noticing: Whereas defense attorneys once made motions to limit the use of the word victim in trials, there is an uptick in efforts to get rid of the word rape. Moreover, she points out, these strategies used to be directed toward prosecutors, but they are now being directed toward witnesses as well.
You ask us, this is creepy, demeaning and wrong. But what say you, actual criminal lawyers? Have you dealt with this at trial? Is there a degree to which language should be limited in this way? When is it justified, and when is it way over the line? Weigh in with the comment button below.
— Brian McDonough