Modern tools have speeded up trial in sexual offence cases in U.S.: lawyer

Making a point:Gina McNea, attorney at law from the U.S., speaking at a seminar in Bidar on Sunday.— photo: Gopichand T.  

‘In most cases, the victim’s testimony alone satisfies the jury’

Development of modern scientific tools such as DNA matching have speeded up investigation and trial of sexual offence cases in the U.S., Gina McNea, attorney at law, who practises at the Supreme Court of Ohio, said here on Sunday.

She felt that advancements in technology and increase in use of hi-tech tools had improved the criminal justice delivery system in her country. She was speaking at a seminar on crimes against women, organised by the District Bar Association, the District Legal Services Authority and the Rotary Club of Bidar. Ms. McNea is one of a group of five professionals who are visiting Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh under Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange programme.

A few decades ago, defence lawyers would try to prove the victim at fault during trials of sexual crimes, but this is mostly not the case now. In most cases, the victim’s testimony alone satisfies the jury. Scientific evidence such as DNA test results act as supplementary evidence only. A secondary eyewitness is not needed. This, to a significant extent, had resulted in several convictions in the recent years, she said.

She said that the system of keeping a register of sexual offenders after their jail term got over had contributed to the security of women and children. After release from jail, any sexual offender must register himself for a minimum of 10 years with the government. He is not allowed to reside near schools. His location is made public to all residents of his city. Locations of all such offenders could be searched on the Internet.

However, several sexual offence cases go unreported in the U.S. as the victim is afraid or embarrassed, she said. Despite an elaborate system of support to women from the State, increasing number of women in public services, legal profession or the judiciary, women victims of sexual abuse don’t report crimes in large numbers. This is especially true if the offender is known to the victim, she said.

She urged women to come forward to report cases of sexual abuse. In my town, a rape victim hesitated in reporting crime and did not testify. But the offender killed a mother and her two children a week later. Had the first victim reported the crime, the offender would have been arrested and three lives would have been saved,”” she said. She also asked men to support the women in times of crisis. Only community support can help women, she said.

During the interaction with lawyers, she spoke about the legal system in the U.S. and the various types of courts present there.

To a question, she said she would prefer the jury system where an offender is judged by his peers, rather than by a judge alone. Principal District and Sessions judge Shashikala Urankar called for increased awareness about alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration to speed up trial in some cases. She said that commitment on the part of enforcement agencies and involvement among the legal fraternity was more important to ensure justice than making changes in law.

District Bar Association president Ramachandra Gandage regretted that some amendment Bills that could make rape laws gender sensitive and protect minors were still pending before Parliament. Despite nationwide rage, there is very little action by the lawmakers to update our laws such as the Evidence Act, the Indian Penal Code or the Civil Procedure Code, he said.

A team of professionals is visiting Karnataka as part of an exchange programme

‘Many sexual offence cases go unreported as the victim is afraid or embarrassed’

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