DENVER (AP) -- Prosecutors, witnesses and other participants in
Kobe Bryant's trial will be prohibited from using the term
"victim" to describe the woman accusing the NBA star of rape.
In a ruling made public Tuesday, state District Judge Terry
Ruckriegle said he agreed with Bryant's lawyers that the term
"Its use under these circumstances could improperly suggest
that a crime had been committed such that the presumption of
innocence might be jeopardized," Ruckriegle said. He said the
19-year-old woman must be referred to by name at trial and as a
"person" in jury instructions.
Bryant's attorneys had also asked the judge to prohibit use of
the term "defendant" in reference to the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Ruckriegle rejected that argument, saying the term is "an accurate
reflection of his legal status."
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He
has said he had consensual sex with the woman at the Vail-area
resort where she worked last summer. If convicted, he faces four
years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine
up to $750,000.
A trial date has not been scheduled.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert had argued the term "victim"
has specific definitions under the law that guarantee the woman
compensation for certain expenses and therapeutic services.
"To strip her of that designation you would deny that to her
and re-victimize her," he said in court documents.
In his ruling, Ruckriegle said nothing in the law requires use
of the term in a courtroom. For his part, the judge said he will
continue to refer to the woman as alleged victim.
The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which filed a
friend-of-the-court brief opposing the defense bid to bar
"victim," said the ruling effectively continues a double standard
for crime victims.
For example, spokeswoman Cynthia Stone said, someone who is
mugged is called a victim from the time of the allegation.
"Our biggest disappointment in this is the fact that it now
forces the prosecution to use the term `alleged victim,' which is
totally against their most deep-seated beliefs," she said. "The
prosecution is there because they believe this woman, they believe
that this crime happened."
Defense attorney Hal Haddon had said referring to the woman as a
victim would impair jurors' ability to impartially consider
evidence. He suggested what he called more neutral terms such as
"complaining witness" or "alleged victim."
"Until Mr. Bryant is acquitted, he is a victim, or at least,
arguably is," Haddon said during a May 11 hearing.
Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the terminology fight was a
"major" issue that went far beyond semantics.
"In a courtroom, only a jury can decide whether she's a victim
and to call her a victim is to prejudice the jury," he said.
"Only when a jury decides guilt or innocence will her status be
Former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser, who said the defense had a
legitimate argument against use of the word victim, said the choice
of words will have little effect on the case's outcome.
"I think it would be insulting to the jury to say they're going
to make up their minds based on what she's called in court,"
Steinhauser said. "The judge is playing it safe."
The ruling does not affect news organizations covering the case,
most of which have used terms such as alleged victim or accuser.
After supermarket tabloids and a nationally syndicated radio
show identified Bryant's accuser by name, state lawmakers this year
approved a bill allowing judges to punish lawyers or others who
release the name of an alleged victim against their will.