An audit of 270 rape cases in Salt Lake County shows that a mere 6 percent were prosecuted.
The review, headed by BYU nursing professor and rape examiner Julie Valentine, looked at 30 random police reports in each year from 2003 to 2011. In all 270 cases, victims had consented to rape exams and provided DNA samples to investigators.
But nearly all the cases fell apart.
Most were not forwarded from police departments to the prosecutor’s office to be screened for charges. Of those that were, few were charged. Some of those charges later were dropped.
Of the 270 original cases, all of which began with contact with a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner, only 16 resulted in guilty pleas or convictions.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the study "certainly confirms what we’ve always intuitively known" — that adult sex-crime cases are extremely difficult to prosecute.
But rape victim advocates say the study’s dismal results show that investigators and prosecutors have not done all they can to make the process more accommodating to victims and more consistent from agency to agency and from case to case.
Who decides the fate of a rape case? » The point at which rape cases stall out is up for debate.
Gill points to study results that show two-thirds of the sampled rape cases never were formally reviewed by the D.A.’s office.
"A lot of the cases never left police stations for screening," said Gill, who was D.A. for only one of the years surveyed.
West Valley City’s new police chief Lee Russo said that he discovered rape investigators in years past had been making some prosecutorial judgments on their own. For instance, he said, some cases raise questions about the victim’s level of intoxication and ability to consent to sex. The win-ability of such a case is "subjective," Russo said. In the past, investigators may have decided not to pursue such a case.
Russo said he now requires all rape cases to be screened by prosecutors.
In many cases, prosecutors themselves discourage investigators from sending a case to the D.A.’s office, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, who noted that the study’s findings do not reflect the informal role of prosecutors during rape investigations.
"When our detectives get a case, it’s not that they work in a vacuum and send or choose not to send the case. There is a conversation that takes place with the D.A.’s office," Burbank said. If a prosecutor pre-emptively tells detectives that a case isn’t ready for charges, "that does not constitute an official screening," Burbank said.
Police investigators often are more optimistic about cases than are the prosecutors who work to win them in court, Burbank said.
"It’s an intimate relationship," Burbank said. "A lot of times we push … and it’s frustrating for our detectives."
Of the audited cases officially screened by the prosecutors, only 25 percent were charged. In 2003 and 2008, none of the 60 cases studied resulted in charges.
Valentine warned that the study was designed to fairly represent only the overall prosecution rate for adult rape cases handled by sex assault nurse examiners — not necessarily the behavior of individual agencies or outcomes in individual years.
"It is a very narrow study, and I don’t think it would be accurate to say that’s what was going on in the District Attorney’s office over those years," Gill said. He estimated that more than 500 cases were presented to his office’s Special Victim’s Unit as of September, with charges filed in about half of those. That includes all sex abuse and child abuse cases.Next Page >
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