Legal wrangling continues in Bryant case
If Kobe Bryant could control his fate in the court of law like he can on a basketball court, his case would be decided by now.
When Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old Eagle County woman last summer, it set in motion a series of events that won’t be decided by a jury until possibly late this fall.
Defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Harold Haddon, trying keeping Bryant out of prison, are carefully building avenues of appeal in case the jury doesn’t see things their way – a vital but time-consuming process in criminal defense.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert’s prosecution team, charged with putting Bryant in prison, is trying to keep jurors from being pulled down those appeal avenues.
Bryant is back in court for three more days of closed hearings today, Tuesday and Wednesday, as his case continues to work its way through the motions hearings phase.
Avenues of appeal
So far, the defense has established four avenues of appeal, explained local attorney David Lugert, a former state and federal prosecutor.
“One has been decided against Mr. Bryant and for the alleged victim and law enforcement,” said Lugert.
The first was decided last week when District Judge Terry Ruckriegle ruled that Bryant’s defense attorneys will not have direct access to his alleged victim’s medical records. Lugert called it a victory for the alleged victim as well as sexual assault victims everywhere and the law enforcement officers involved in this case. He said it will keep Bryant’s attorneys from painting his alleged victim with a “tar brush” over medical or psychological issues, and that her testimony at trial will stand as presented.
Lugert said it also creates the first avenue of appeal if Bryant is convicted.
“Right now, there are four appealable issues,” said Lugert.
Issues to be decided
Three issues remain on the table: (1) Defense assertions about the alleged victim’s sexual activity in the days surrounding June 30; (2) a defense request to have evidence and statements Bryant provided sheriff’s investigators be barred from the jury when the trial starts; and (3) the defense’s assertion that Colorado’s rape shield law is unconstitutional.
Each issue is important to both sides, Lugert said, and they’ll aggressively contest each one. And the outcomes will determine much of what the jury gets to hear during the trial, and go a long way in determining whether or not Bryant goes to prison, Lugert said.
Rape shield law
Since hearings last winter, Ruckriegle has been hearing witness testimony about the alleged victim’s possible sexual activity. Mackey has asked in open court if the alleged victim’s injuries could have been caused by her having sex with three men in three days. Prosecutors, trying to keep the case focused on the events of the night of June 30, objected at the time, and continue to, saying the information is not relevant.
“I think it’s likely that the victim’s sexual history within 72 hours to a week before the incident may become relevant and become an exception to the rape shield statute,” said Lugert. “It could create an explanation for the vaginal injuries other than the force of Mr. Bryant.”
Lugert said if the information is excluded by the court, it will create a second major avenue for an appeal if Bryant is convicted.
Bryant’s attorneys insist that the physical evidence and statements Bryant gave sheriff’s investigators should not be allowed in court. They say Bryant was not advised of his Miranda rights.
Prosecutors say it wasn’t necessary because Bryant wasn’t under arrest at the time, was free to leave, and volunteered his cooperation.
That evidence includes statements from Bryant, as well as the T-shirt stained with his alleged victim’s blood that he was still wearing the next night when sheriff’s investigators contacted him. It also includes evidence from his rape kit examination.
“If this should go against the defense, this would constitute a third major ground for appeal if Mr. Bryant is convicted,” explained Lugert.
Mackey and Haddon have asked Ruckriegle to rule that Colorado’s rape shield law is in violation of both the Colorado and United States constitutions.
Prosecutors say the defense is misinterpreting both the law and the Constitution, and are asking that the law stand. Colorado’s rape shield law is designed to protect rape victims by prohibiting their previous sexual activity and personal history from being brought up in court.
If Ruckriegle upholds Colorado’s rape shield law as constitutional, Lugert said it creates a fourth avenue of appeal for the defense.
Not done yet
At least one other major motion could still be filed, said Lugert, who has been on both sides of dozens of trials during his career.
Either the prosecution or the defense will move to enter into the trial – or keep it out – evidence about a condition called “rape trauma stress disorder,” also known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lugert said prosecutors may want to present expert witnesses to support the victim’s testimony about the events of June 30 and afterward. The defense may want to argue just the opposite, he said.
A defense motion on this issue could seek to limit the extent of the so-called “outcry testimony” – in other words, they may move to restrict the jury’s knowledge of what the woman told a co-worker the night of the alleged assault at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
A prosecution motion could do just the opposite, asking to let in as much of the outcry testimony as possible.
So far, legal experts say, Kobe Bryant’s defense attorneys have created four avenues by which they could contest the jury’s decision if Bryant is convicted of raping a 19-year-old Eagle County woman:
– The defense wants the jury to hear about the alleged victim’s purported sexual activity in the days surrounding June 30. The prosecution says it’s not relevant, based on Colorado’s rape shield law.
– Bryant’s defense attorneys say Colorado’s rape shield law is unconstitutional. Prosecutors, of course, assert it is solid legislation.
– Bryant’s defense attorneys want evidence and statements Bryant provided sheriff’s investigators thrown out, saying they were improperly collected because Bryant was never advised of his Miranda rights. Prosecutors say he didn’t need to be advised of his rights because he was never under arrest, that he understood that, and that he cooperated voluntarily.
– State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle ruled last week that Bryant’s defense attorneys cannot have Bryant’s alleged victim’s medical records.