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Supreme Court in landmark rape rulings

TT/David Landes · 3 Jul 2009, 14:34

Published: 03 Jul 2009 14:34 GMT+02:00

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In overturning two rape convictions from 2008, the Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen) ruled that a victim’s testimony ought not to be given more weight than that of an accused rapist if there is nothing else indicating that one of them is more credible than the other.

According to the court, in order to secure a rape conviction, prosecutors must also present forensic or some other type of evidence to support the plaintiff’s testimony, something which was lacking in both cases.

In one case, a woman claimed that a man threatened her at knifepoint and forced her to have sex with him in the apartment of the man’s friend. The friend was asleep when the couple had sex in the bathroom, and then left the apartment at the man’s request, at which point the couple had sex in the bed.

The friend claimed not to have heard or seen anything, but testified that he doubted the sex had been anything but consensual. Investigators were also unable to find any evidence indicating the woman had had a knife held to her throat.

The second case also involved conflicting testimony from the alleged rapist and victim about whether or not the intercourse was forced.

When discussing the incident later, the girl admitted that she didn’t consider the incident to be a case of rape at the time.

The court also found that it could not be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the man had forced himself on the girl using violence, as there was no physical evidence indicating violence had been used and certain details of the girl’s account raised doubts with the court.

“It should have gone this way from the start. My client is extremely relieved,” said Pia Liljeblad, an attorney who represented one of accused men, to the TT news agency.

“The lay judges and we lawyers aren’t psychologists. We can’t be certain in deciding who is more credible than another if there is no other evidence. And in the case I represented there were things that raised doubts.”

Liljeblad thinks that the Supreme Court believed it was time for a clarification regarding evidence standards, and that the attention given to the issue by Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekansler) Göran Lambertz contributed to the court deciding to take up the cases.

“It shows that one person’s word against another’s is not enough,” she said.

The cases mark the first time since the late 1990s that Sweden’s highest court has taken up this type of case, and Lambertz praised the court for demanding higher standards of evidence.

“It’s important to be careful about convicting if you only have testimony from the plaintiff,” he told TT.

According to Johan Munck, who chairs the Supreme Court and heard both cases, the rulings are of limited value with respect to setting a new legal precedent.

Story continues below…

“If the plaintiff’s testimony is credible and is supported by other circumstances, it ought to be enough for a guilty verdict,” he told TT.

He added that both cases likely involved some sort of attack, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to establish that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

Munck said the court decided to hear the cases due in part to public debate regarding standards of evidence as well as ongoing discussions on the matter in legal circles, although he wasn’t involved in the decision to refer the cases to the Supreme Court.

“We’ve received a lot of inquiries regarding standards of evidence for years, especially of this kind,” he said, adding that he expects the ruling to affect how police and prosecutors conduct preliminary investigations.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:03 July 3, 2009 by DStrope
to me this is so stupid, very, very few cases does a women lie about an attack, does it happen? yes, but the police usually can figure it out
16:37 July 3, 2009 by TangerineTangerine
This is exactly why many victims choose not to report rape. They get ridiculed publicly and are not taken seriously. Unless the victim is beaten black and blue how is one supposed to rely on merely physical evidence? What about emotional damage?
18:04 July 3, 2009 by Harding00
The problem is is that in some cases it boils down to "he said she said." I have a friend who was accused of rape. The girl who cried rape had a completely bogus story where nothing lined up. She even said he raped her when there was documented proof that he wasn't even in the same town at the time! But since she stated that he raped her 54 times in two months there was a good chance the jury would find him guilty on at least one count of rape. During trial he was advised by his lawyer to plead guilty and receive a lesser sentence. He didn't want to but it was either take the chance with the jury and possibly go to jail for 15 years, or plead guilty and have probation and community service. The case was a joke, because it was full of lies by the girl. Simply put, he was accused of rape so she could collect $350,000 (from the school where she said the rape occurred) in a later civil lawsuit, which of course she won.
18:33 July 3, 2009 by Playmaker
It is better to let 10 guilty free then to have one innocent hang. there is no punishment for the women who lie about rape. i have read that if there is actuall rape there would be damage to her private part. i think the judge got it right. you can not convict on a he said she said. that leave resonable doubt. esp if she has no physical evidense on her body. good for the court
18:42 July 3, 2009 by Kaethar
It's good that the court has clarified this! Hopefully this will decrease the amount of falsely reported rapes. And to the first poster - of course it happens. Do you believe all women are angels who can do no wrong? It does happen and it's a scam that's quite easy to pull off...
19:23 July 3, 2009 by Mack
For all the people that think this is a good thing... get back to us when someone you know and love has been raped and there are no witnesses or clear evidence. I feel for people that have been wrongly accused but rape doesn't typically take place in front of witnesses or always leave much evidence.
19:49 July 3, 2009 by volvoman9
Although I would totally agree that rape is a most heinous crime, the proof of the crime is why we have a legal system. Lawyers and juries are not infallible but we must have some reasonable method of affording justice to both the accuser and the accused. Not a perfect system? Perhaps; but it is the one we have.
21:02 July 3, 2009 by Greg in Canada
There was a case in Canada several years ago where a woman claimed she was raped by her doctor. The newspapers more or less pronounced the poor guy guilty immediately. A feminist group picketed his office. His patients abanded him.

In the end she was telling a lie and was only charged with mischief. She made up the story because he snubbed her sexual advances to him in the office.

Any woman who has sex with a man could claim "rape" if she wanted if it was not necessary to prove it.

As horrible a crime rape is, we live in societies where you are innocent until proven guilty. That's the way it has to be.
21:33 July 3, 2009 by jack sprat
I would expect the same to apply to all types of cases,not just rape,in all civilised countries, where its just one persons word against the next, unless of course one party could be clearly proven to be lying.

Not sure how this has just come to pass now.

Does this mean that there are people already behind bars here, purely on the strength of one persons word against another, without any coroberating evidence?
21:39 July 3, 2009 by Mzungu
Be careful with those big words sprat,you will be chocking yourself!


Bye, pub time.
22:01 July 3, 2009 by jack sprat
I think you mean choking MZ,a much more basic error methinks.
22:35 July 3, 2009 by skane refugee
there are many, many examples of alleged rapists being subsequently proven innocent ... but whose lives are still utterly devastated by the publicity surrounding their accusation and trial ... their clearance/innocence rarely receives the same publicity as their accusation in the press and local communities where they live and work ... rumours and doubts often linger ...

agree with the point upthread that some (a small minority hopefully) people (of whatever gender) are not above making accusations purely out of spite and malice against innocents knowing that the consequences for the person on the receiving end are likely to be catastrophic (whether found guilty or innocent) ... whereas the consequences for the accuser are often trivial even in the event that he/she is proven to have 'fabricated the entire story' ...

don't get me wrong, rape is a very serious crime and scourge of society with devastating psychological impact on victims ...

but the scales of justice have to be carefully balanced ...

the problem with rape for investigating police is that it is often so difficult to get conclusive evidence that the crime has actually occurred ...

proving sexual intercourse with the accused is relatively straghtforward if the victim comes forward quickly enough ... but proving non-consent is much more complicated of course :-(
23:37 July 3, 2009 by glamshek
This is good decision especially in European societies where women do not have any shame to report this kind of lies. Most of the times there is an intention to get the money in a later on lawsuit.

Even from humanistic point of view too, its necessary to safeguard the image or character of the innocent accused in such cases by increasing the level of information required to plead guilty. Why should a girl tarnish the image of a person like this ?
00:06 July 4, 2009 by insect
Maybe it is time they reverted to a simple lie detector test to get rid of the he said she said issue. I know it can be faked too, but it takes a lot to be successfull in that.
01:23 July 4, 2009 by jack sprat
Lie detectors are far from a satisfactory means of providing evidence and can be influenced by a quite number of different factors.

Where are you Mz....I hope you havn't "chocked",... sorry, choked on your pint....
10:43 July 4, 2009 by Harding00
Lie detectors do not detect lies, they detect stress and anxiety. Personally I would be stressed and anxious too if I was accused of rape and was subjected to the "lie" detector test. People who are stressed and anxious look as if they are lying on a "lie" detector test, but in fact they are not. Talk to any reputable psychologist, or read any reputable studies, and you will see how they are bogus. I have taken my fair share of psychology classes when I got my criminal justice degree, and I have seen the evidence against Polygraph tests.
12:25 July 4, 2009 by Jamtjim
I'm just suprised that it was ever enough to convict somebody soley on someone's testomy. This surely is against all notions of fairness to the accused person.

Stating that women are unlikely to falsely accuse men of rape are not only rather misguided but also rather stupid. In my experience, women are just as likely to lie as men so why should their testomony be treated with greater authority.

The accused should be treated as innocent untill proven guilty and accusation is not the same thing as proof.

As for lie detectors, they dont work with any degree of accuracy so thats why they are not seen as reliable in most justice systems. Yet another stupid idea...
13:10 July 4, 2009 by Playmaker
i think a good way to get rid of fake rapes is to give the same punishment to the falsely accuser. if she is found to give false testomony then she should get the same jail time + fine. even found innocent the men still have that hanging over there head and they spend thousands on fees including attorneys fees + the emoitional trama the innocent men go through. sorry for the spelling we need spell check. lol
13:27 July 4, 2009 by glamshek
Ya you are right Playmaker. She should get the same jail time+fine if she is proven liar !

She has no right to tarnish the character of an innocent person
17:17 July 4, 2009 by Stüpid
Tomorrow the girl would say I was drunk or the man was drunk. Or the man would say I was drunk. Both would say they remember nothing much. Simply wasting the court time. The story frames on its own course of time. We have to just watch and see how the narration turns around.
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