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 implies guilt.
"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
"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 decided."
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.