Monday, September 9, 2013


Except from Turvey, B. (2013) Forensic Victimology: Examining Violent Crime Victims in Investigative and Legal Contexts, 2nd ed., San Diego: Elsevier Science.

In cases where victim actions, history, or demeanor are relevant to legal proceedings, forensic examiners may be asked to examine victim-oriented behavioral evidence and contextualize it before the trier of fact. This is the forensic aspect of forensic victimology [fn12]. ...the rules of admissibility vary from state to state, court to court, and judge to judge — as the admissibility of victimology evidence is made by the court on an individual basis and based on a sometimes-unique interpretation of the law.

[fn12] The single feature that distinguishes forensic examiners from all others in the field is the expectation that they may be asked to provide expert testimony regarding their findings in a court of law. If they conduct examinations and render findings without this expectation hanging over their work, it is not being done in a forensic context, and subsequent conclusions may not be prepared with the same standards of confidence or certainty. Worse, findings may be overly confident, without the required scientific restraint.

The question arises as to the role of victimology in this venue. In general, forensic examiners should conduct themselves as both scientist and educator. It is their role to provide a cooling effect to the often-heated issues surrounding victim-oriented behavioral evidence. They must examine the evidence impartially, through the lens of the scientific method, and render conclusions related to victimology in accordance with their findings. When necessary, they must be able to explain their findings to the court and show how they achieved them.

For the small percentage of cases that do go to trial, there is an unavoidable vulnerability to the culmination of errors, improper motivations, and the zeal of advocates on either side of the courtroom. This is particularly true of information related to the victim. As described in preceding chapters, victimological information can be compiled ineptly, reported inaccurately, or provided in a biased manner—and that is when it is collected at all. The misinformation that follows may combine during court proceedings to have a tremendous impact.

Bad information can create a snowball effect: errors and omissions in the original information provided to police lead to errors in the investigation; leading to problems in the case assembled against the accused; leading to mistakes in the charges handed down and how the case is brought by the prosecution; leading to false perceptions by the judge, jury, and media. All these can have influence over whether or not a defendant is convicted and how he or she is sentenced. Generally speaking, one purpose of forensic victimology is to help prevent this snowball effect from happening. 

Victimological information should be gathered objectively and consistently, and then used to describe or evaluate the victims and their circumstances so that judges and juries are privy to information that may be relevant to their decisions. In this context, direct questions must be asked: was the victim using drugs; does the victim have a history of falsely reporting crime; what was the extent of the victim’s physical injuries; was the victim conscious during the attack; does the victim have a history of taking rides from strangers or letting strangers into his or her home; does the victim lock his or her door at night? The judge, who determines what is legally admissible, decides the issue of relevance for these and similarly themed questions. Then, as already discussed, the judge makes a ruling: sometimes everything about a victim is admissible, sometimes nothing, and sometimes the court “splits the baby” by admitting a percentage of victim information.

The more accurate and complete the victim information provided, the clearer the context of the crime. This is an investigative axiom. During an investigation, everything about the victim must be learned and documented, with nothing treated as trivial. Unfortunately, there is a tendency on the part of some investigators to avoid gathering some or all of the victimology, to deprive the court of contextual information that might sway their findings against prevailing case theories. The court should view this practice with dismay, as informed decisions about what to admit and what to keep out cannot be made in the absence of a complete investigative effort and record.

Presenting victimological information in court involves a different standard from the investigative effort. Investigative victimology gathers everything; the court decides admissibility based on that record in the context of the collective issues in a case. Typically, victimological evidence must serve a particular purpose related to a legal issue to be admissible. For example, victimological information may demonstrate that a crime has actually occurred or that the elements of this case meet the definition of the charges brought against the accused. Information about the victim will undoubtedly contextualize the crime and help to reconstruct exactly what took place and in what order. 

Information about the victim may also allow the judge and jury to better understand who the victim is/was, why that person was targeted, how the victim was acquired and harmed, and most importantly by whom. On the other hand, if there is a specific reason to doubt the victim’s credibility or the accuracy of particular statements, victimology may be introduced at trial to bring this to light. 

These are just some of the many possible scenarios, but the theme remains clear: to be admissible in court, victimology must be relevant to a factual matter or legal question, and not simply part of a smear campaign.

Recent high profile cases involving victimological evidence include:

Jodi Arias
Jodi Arias was charged with first degree murder in the killing of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The killing took place at his home in Mesa, Arizona, in June 2008. Ms. Arias claimed she killed Mr. Alexander in self-defense. As part of her defense, she asserted that Mr. Alexander had become increasingly violent and more sexually demanding in the months before the confrontation that led to his death. She also claimed he was sexually interested in young boys. 

The prosecution, however, claimed that Ms. Arias killed him in a jealous rage, stabbing him at least 27 times. As part of her defense, explicit details regarding Ms. Arias’ sexual relationship with the victim were a constant feature of courtroom testimony.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK)
In late 2012, Dominique Strauss-Kahn reached a financial settlement with the hotel maid who claimed that he had sexually assaulted her. The former head of the IMF was accused of rape but then later the prosecution was dropped in 2011 when the victim was determined to be unreliable. She was not charged with making a false report, and sued him in civil court along with the New York Post.

Stacey Rambold

In 2013, District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh drew public ridicule after he sentenced former Billings teacher Stacey Rambold to a mere 30 days in jail for the 2007 rape of Cherice Moralez. A former Montana high school teacher, Rambold was convicted of raping the 14-year-old student. She later committed suicide.

Judge Baugh described Ms. Moralez as a troubled youth who seemed older than her years, explaining of Rambold's light sentence that she was "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold.

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