Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?

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Leigh Corfman says that she was fourteen years old and waiting with her mother outside a courtroom before a custody hearing when Roy Moore, then thirty-two and an assistant district attorney, offered to stay with Corfman while her mother went into court. Corfman says Moore used that opportunity to get her phone number, and subsequently took her out on several dates. On one of those occasions, he took her to his home, undressed her down to her underwear, undressed himself to the same extent, fondled her through her bra and panties, and attempted to put her hand on his genitals.

If what Corfman says is true, Moore committed a felony under Alabama law (which hasn’t changed in the meantime). Moore says that none of it happened: “I never knew this woman. I never met this woman.”

Moore’s defenders say that he ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that a “mere accusation” (as Donald Trump called it) shouldn’t block Moore’s election to the U.S. Senate. “It’s just he-said, she-said” is the favored phrase. (Moore and his friends also want to ignore the three other juvenile but barely legal girls who say he took them out and kissed them.)

As Mitt Romney among others has pointed out, this is absurdly confused; it’s an attempt to apply courtroom standards outside their proper realm. No one thinks an ordinary political charge needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before voters take it into account, and there’s no reason why a charge that happens also to be felony should be any different. (Moore’s attempt, and that of his supporters, to blame the Washington Post for concocting “fake news,” while it might be effective political rhetoric, lost all of its logical force when the Wall Street Journal re-interviewed the Post‘s sources and found that all of them confirmed that the Post had accurately reported their statements.)

Even if this were a criminal trial, Moore might well be convicted. Leigh Corfman’s sworn testimony would be sufficient to establish a prima facie case. It would then be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the accusation against the credibility of the denial and decide whether they were convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Moore was guilty. Sometimes the jurors decide that they are so convinced, even if it’s simply the bare word of the accuser against the bare word of the complainant: in a mugging, for example, there may be no other witness or physical evidence. If the victim has no apparent motive to lie – while the accused has the strongest of motives, the desire to escape a felony conviction – it may not be unreasonable for a jury to decide that the accusation is convincing enough to convict.

But Moore’s position is actually much worse than that of our hypothetical robbery suspect. Continue reading “Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?”

Rape, privilege, and the presumption of innocence

The amount of nonsense written about rape and lesser sexual assaults is really quite astounding. I suppose I should be grateful for anything that makes “conservatives” sympathetic to the rights of the accused. I would be, too, if I thought it might generalize past privileged men accused of that specific crime (and of course right-wing pols and corporate grifters). But if  the high rate of false convictions among those sent to Death Row worries the right-wing pundit class, they’ve been keeping that information private.

The two latest exhibits are George Will’s weird ruminations about campus sexual-assault codes (and his subsequent defiance of the First Rule of Holes) and Peter Lloyd’s ill-named “Thinking Man” column in the Telegraph (aka Torygraph) about the travails of the current president of the Oxford Union. That young man will not face prosecution after two female Oxford students, both 19, accused him of rape in one case and attempted rape in the other.  Apparently the reported incidents involved two separate occasions; the stories don’t make it clear whether the two accusers knew each other, or of each other’s allegations.

Will and Lloyd employ identical brands of (il)logic. They (un)reason approximately as follows:

A report of rape (or other sexual assault) is merely an allegation; in the criminal law, the accused is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, and proof must be beyond reasonable doubt (also known as “proof to a moral certainty”); therefore when the police or the prosecutors do not press charges, or the charges are dismissed, or the accused is acquitted at trial, that proves that the allegation was false; since the accused is innocent according to the law, he must not have done what his accuser alleged he did. That means that she is a liar and he is a victim.

Therefore, any inconvenience the accused suffers in the way of damaged reputation or non-criminal punishment (e.g., university discipline) constitutes injustice, and any administrative system that hands out sanctions on less than a guilty-beyond-reasonable-doubt standard violates basic principles of fairness. Lloyd demands that in cases of sexual assault the accused, as well as the accuser, be granted anonymity. Will then goes on to add that conflating obnoxious but lesser forms of misbehavior such as unwanted touching (a crime) and obscene remarks (not a crime) with rape confuses things, which is true, as he then demonstrates. Will and Lloyd finish up with poetic screeds about the horrible oppression of privileged men.

In a sane world, one would just leave this nonsense alone as obvious self-refutation. But since in the actual world it seems to have some persuasive power, here goes: Continue reading “Rape, privilege, and the presumption of innocence”