Site Meter

Category: Evidence Law


Scorned Law: Rethinking Evidentiary Rules in Cases of Gender-Based Violence

Today, I would like to touch upon what I believe to be a disturbing void within Critical Legal Theory. Although Crit-scholars have unmasked many examples of apparently neutral laws with discriminatory effects, they have overlooked to some extent the weight of apparently neutral evidentiary rules upon certain minority and identitarian groups.  The article I’m currently working on intends to explore this void by examining how evidence rules are not neutral in practice, but rather inexorably respond to our patriarchal practices.

The ultimate end of our evidentiary system is to fairly ascertain the truth and secure a just determination in every proceeding. However, for centuries, women have been doubly victimized and subjugated to patriarchal powers because of evidentiary rules. Their value as human beings have been lessened in rape and sexual harassment cases by a long history of corroboration requirements and public disclosure of their sexual pastMost jurisdictions have been able to recognize that it was necessary to reform these rules in order to amend those wrongs. Nonetheless, our system, through its evidentiary rules, continues to re-victimize women. Attorneys unscrupulously make use of certain rules of evidence to access a patriarchal narrative that blames women for the violence they are victims of or that portrays them as a dishonest party seeking revenge.  The resulting proceedings preclude effective judicial redress. It is time we start looking into these instances and think of amending our rules of evidence to correct the wrongs we continue to inflict upon women, especially in the context of gender-based violence.

Violence against women is an alarming problem in our society.  Although reliable figures are difficult to compile, it is estimated that 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault and that 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Most of these crimes, however, are not prosecuted, mainly because they go unreported. Organizations working in this field estimate that only 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes and 50% of all stalking crimes are reported. Moreover, meta-analysis of police and judicial statistics reveals that only one out of six domestic violence cases reported to the police in the United States results in a conviction.  Furthermore, only a third of the people arrested for domestic violence ends up convicted. These numbers illustrate a twofold problem.  First, a large percentage of the afflicted population of women is not seeking judicial redress. On the other hand, those who do go through the legal process are not receiving the justice they deserve and seek.

There are multiple reasons that would account for the low reporting rates in these types of crimes. It has been widely studied how victims do not feel comfortable going to the authorities because police officers do not validate their accusations and instead receive victims with the same violence the victims have been trying to escape. In addition, in many instances, women are trying to avoid the negative repercussions that prosecuting these crimes introduce to their lives, such as adverse child custody determinations or becoming the object of criminal investigations themselves. Likewise, there are several reasons that explain the low percentage of convictions. The more salient one is the implicit biases of triers of facts. It has been documented how judges and jurors take women to be less credible than their male partners, a bias that grows even deeper when factors such as race, socio-economic and immigration status are thrown into the mix.

This credibility bias is extremely powerful, especially when rules of evidence allow defense attorneys to use it in their favor. Fully aware of this fact, defense attorneys have reclaimed the myth of the scorned woman to argue that female victims are misusing the judicial system “to get back at” their partners or ex-lovers and that defendants should not be convicted because it is all a lie. The strategy takes advantage of the rules of evidence that allow attorneys to impeach the credibility of a witness with any specific act of untruthfulness by bringing into evidence inconsequential acts of mendacity. By doing so, defense attorneys access the sexist narrative of the scorned woman that resonates with the implicit credibility bias of adjudicators and secure a verdict of not guilty. This strategy hinders convictions and deters victims from coming forward. Domestic violence victims are well aware of this practice and choose not to report the crimes out of the fear of being demonized as liars and re-victimized during the trial.

Consider the following example. A woman decides to press charges against her husband who has been physically abusing her for three years. During the trial, the defense attorney impeaches the 25–year-old “housewife” with a loan application she filed when she was 20. The victim admits during cross that she in fact lied on the application.  Since all of the acts of violence occurred in the privacy of their home, there are no other witnesses to corroborate her version except for the victim’s mother. During the trial, the defense attorney highlights how successful his client is and how the marriage was experiencing difficulties. In the closing, the defense attorney states that we know how the victim is capable of lying to get whatever she wants. He further argues that she did not want her husband to leave the relationship and was capable of lying in order to force her husband to stay with her and secure her financial stability. The basic premise of the defense’s theory is that it was all an attempt from the victim to get back at the abuser for wanting to end their relationship. Finally, the attorney discredits the victim’s mother by affirming that a mother would do anything for a daughter. The verdict comes out and the defendant is found not guilty.

This case is more common than we might think. Women not only face the disbelief of those closest to them who cannot understand why they would leave their “alleged” abusive partner, but also bear the cross of being depicted as liars in court. Conviction rates seem to suggest that such a strategy is quite effective and that fact triers’ biases are indeed precluding the fair administration of justice in gender-based violence cases.

A good strategy to prevent this from continuing to happen is to reform our evidentiary rules. We must shield gender-based violence victims from vicious attacks based in patriarchal notions about women’s character that only skew the truth and prevent justice from being served. Such a proposal should also make evident that this powerful narrative of women not being credible is so pervasive that none of us is exempt from acting upon its premises. Specifically, I advocate for the adoption of rules that would prevent attorneys from impeaching victims of gender-based violence (such as a battered women, rape and sexual harassment victims) with previous acts of untruthfulness not related to the charges.

My proposal envisions a hearing presided by a second judge in which defense attorneys will proffer to the court the evidence they possess and intend to use in the trial regarding the untruthful character of the victim. In addition, the defense will be required to present evidence about the victim’s history of misusing the judicial system or any proof it might possess with regard to the victim maliciously filing the suit or pressing charges against the defendant. During this special hearing, the prosecution or the plaintiff would have the opportunity to rebut the allegations from the defense and present evidence that supports the veracity of the charges and the lack of evidence about the victim abusing the judicial system.

This hearing would give the court the opportunity to weigh the relevance of the evidence against its prejudicial effects and the probability of misguiding the triers of facts in their determination of whether the offense actually occurred.  If the court determines that the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effects, the court will issue an order stating that such evidence should be admissible and will state the scope of the defense’s line of questioning and how it could be used by the defense when arguing its case. This procedure would ensure – especially in criminal cases – that the defendant’s rights are not being violated, while providing the victim a less biased court.

Although a blog post does not provide sufficient space to explore all the details of a possible shield rule, I hope this entry serves to stir up a conversation about the need for such a rule. Hopefully, in the future, our rules of evidence will be amended to protect women from being doubly victimized in gender-based violence cases. Even more importantly, such a reform would help increase the conviction rates in gender-based violence cases and would encourage victims to report incidents of violence.


Volume 60, Issue 1 (October 2012)

Volume 60, Issue 1 (October 2012)


Not This Child: Constitutional Questions in Regulating Noninvasive Prenatal Genetic Diagnosis and Selective Abortion Jaime Staples King 2
A Labor Paradigm for Human Trafficking Hila Shamir 76
Prosecutors Hide, Defendants Seek: The Erosion of Brady Through the Defendant Due Diligence Rule Kate Weisburd 138


Trade Dress Protection for Cuisine: Monetizing Creativity in a Low-IP Industry Naomi Straus 182
What Happens in the Jury Room Stays in the Jury Room . . . but Should It?: A Conflict Between the Sixth Amendment and Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) Amanda R. Wolin 262

Volume 59, Issue 5 (June 2012)

Volume 59, Issue 5 (June 2012)


Implicit Bias in the Courtroom Jerry Kang et al. 1124
The Supreme Court’s Regulation of Civil Procedure: Lessons From Administrative Law Lumen N. Mulligan & Glen Staszewski 1188


Techniques for Mitigating Cognitive Biases in Fingerprint Identification Elizabeth J. Reese 1252
Credit CARD Act II: Expanding Credit Card Reform by Targeting Behavioral Biases Jonathan Slowik 1292
Shocking the Conscience: What Police Tasers and Weapon Technology Reveal About Excessive Force Law Aaron Sussman 1342

What if the Boy Who Cried Wolf Could Testify under a Pseudonym … as an Expert Witness on Canis Lupus?

What would the Daubert Hearing for "Shepherd X" look like?

“Major Lior” is the pseudonym for an Israeli Defense Force officer who testified in Dallas not long ago in what has been called the “largest terrorism financing investigation in American history.”  His name was pronounced “Major Lee-OR” at the trial.  Snarky commentators suggested that defense counsel should mispronounce his name to rhyme with “fire.”  After all, what defense counsel would not want to refer the jury to the testimony of a major liar?  But the joke exposed a real problem for the defense: how can you “attack a witness’s reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness” under FRE 608 or engage in more typically frutiful areas of inquiry into credibility or expertise if — thanks to a court-sanctioned pseudonym — you don’t even know his name and must rely on your adversary for information in place of any investigative legwork of your own?

Last week, the Fifth Circuit handed down an important opinion upholding the convictions in that case.  The unanimous and enormous (172 page) opinion written by Judge Carolyn King (joined by Judges Emilio Garza and James Graves) received virtually no media attention.  That’s strange, considering that the convictions that the court upheld concerned an international conspiracy to fund Hamas and the defendants once ran the largest Muslim charity in the United States.

But the silence is stranger still when you consider the importance of the issue (one of many) before the court: Did the district court deprive the defendants of their rights to due process and to confront witnesses against them when it allowed two witnesses to testify using pseudonyms?  As far as I know, such a practice would be unusual but not entirely unprecedented were it to concern the typical fact witness.  Children, informers, and undercover agents are sometimes allowed various levels of shielding from the ordinary requirement of fully public testimony in a completely open court.  But these witnesses were far from ordinary.  Both were officers in the Israeli Defense Force.  “Major Lior” was a fact witness whose role was to authenticate documents obtained by the IDF during a military operation.  The other, “Avi,” testified as an expert witness, providing his opinion to the jury about the financial structure of Hamas.

After the break, I’ll give some background on the case and then explore the appellate court’s conclusion that this testimony worked no constitutional injury.  Given that the Supreme Court granted only 1.1% of the petitions for review last term, I doubt that the appeal will go any farther.  But I think it should and, though I certainly would give no quarter to Hamas or its allies, I think the use of these anonymous witnesses violated the defendants’ rights.

Read More


Neuroscience at Trial: Society for Neuroethics Convenes Panel of Front-Line Practitioners

Is psychopathy a birth defect that should exclude a convicted serial killer and rapist from the death penalty?  Are the results of fMRI lie-detection tests reliable enough to be admitted in court? And if a giant brain tumor suddenly turns a law-abiding professional into a hypersexual who indiscriminately solicits females from ages 8 to 80, is he criminally responsible for his conduct?  These were the questions on the table when the International Neuroethics Society convened a fascinating panel last week at the Carnegie Institution for Science last week on the uses of neuroscience evidence in criminal and civil trials.

Moderated and organized by Hank Greely of Stanford Law School, the panel brought together:

  • Steven Greenberg, whose efforts to introduce neuroscience on psychopathic disorder (psychopathy) in capital sentencing in Illinois of Brian Dugan has garnered attention from Nature to The Chicago Tribune;
  • Houston Gordon (an old-school trial attorney successful enough not to need his own website, hence no hyperlink), who has made the most assertive arguments so far to admit fMRI lie-detection evidence in a civil case, United States v. Semrau, and
  • Russell Swerdlow, a research and clinical professor of neurology (and three other sciences!).  Swerdlow’s brilliant diagnostic work detected the tumor in the newly-hypersexual patient, whom others had dismissed as a creep and a criminal.


In three upcoming short posts, I will feature the comments of each of these panelists and present for you, dear reader, some of the thornier issues raised by their talks.  These cases have been reported on in publications ranging from the Archives of Neurology to USA Today, but Concurring Opinions brings to you, direct and uncensored, the statements of the lawyers and scientists who made these cases happen … Can I say “stay tuned” on a blog?


UCLA Law Review Vol. 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)

Volume 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)


Good Faith and Law Evasion Samuel W. Buell 611
Making Sovereigns Indispensable: Pimentel and the Evolution of Rule 19 Katherine Florey 667
The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Jennifer L. Mnookin et al. 725
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Joseph P. Bono 781
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Judge Nancy Gertner 789
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Pierre Margot 795


What’s Your Position? Amending the Bankruptcy Disclosure Rules to Keep Pace With Financial Innovation Samuel M. Kidder 803
Defendant Class Actions and Patent Infringement Litigation Matthew K. K. Sumida 843


Rationalizing Law

For quite a long time, extensive empirical work in psychology, sociology, and behavioral economics has been revealing that many of the law’s most cherished rules are faulty.  They are based upon mistaken assumptions about human behavior.  They are often flat out wrong.  And yet they persist.

The work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky has shown that the human mind operates with all sorts of biases and heuristics that lead to systematic errors in judgment and perception.  As Dan Ariely put it in a recent work, Predictably Irrational (2008): “[W]e are not only irrational, but predictably irrational . . . our irrationality happens the same way, again and again.” (p. xx).  Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein describe many of these systematic blunders in human judgment in their book, Nudge (2008).

As these studies increasingly make their way into legal scholarship, they are proving that many existing legal rules don’t work as they should.  And this is more than a mere normative critique.  The rules just fail because people don’t act or think the way the law thinks they ought to.  In fact, what we’re learning about the way people act and think is often counterintuitive.  It is hard to grasp and hard to deal with.

This research should be undermining many legal rules at their very foundations.  Yet the legal rules don’t seem to be shaken despite their foundations being annihilated.

In many domains, when something is proven flat wrong, it is confronted and dealt with.  If evidence shows that bleeding the patient isn’t a good cure for disease, then we move on and stop doing it.  But in law, if the evidence shows that a rule doesn’t work, what’s the response?  Often, it is to just accept the evidence with a grin and continue on.  If science were like law, we’d be talking about how the earth is round yet continuing to behave as if it were flat.

Read More


Book Review: David Kaye’s The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence

The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence by David H. Kaye.  Harvard University Press: Cambridge 2010, pp. 352. $45.00.

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

– The late Johnny Cochran, September 1995.

Almost fifteen years have passed since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the double murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.  Called the trial of the century, the Simpson case is still seen as a key point in legal history, even though the case created no significant legal precedent.

Experts at the time were still debating fundamental questions about the reliability,  acceptance, and admissibility of DNA testing.  The Supreme Court had handed down its watershed opinion in Daubert only a few years earlier.  As Professor David Kaye explains in his new book The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence, Simpson’s attorneys challenged the admissibility of the DNA evidence on numerous grounds.  But, at the end of the day, the most memorable moment of the trial is not the arcane issue of whether experts correctly calculated genetic probabilities using statistical estimation methods but Johnny Cochran’s statement in his closing, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Professor Kaye, distinguished professor of law and Weiss Family Faculty Scholar at Penn State Law, offers far more than just an account of the Simpson DNA evidence.  Kaye provides an in-depth review of how the law of DNA evidence progressed from its beginnings in the 1980’s to its current state.  His book is, in his own words, “part history, part legal analysis, part popular science, and part applied statistics.”  Kaye provides vignettes of many key developments in DNA evidence, from the first conviction and first exoneration based on DNA evidence in the 1986 Pitchfork case to the Simpson case to the use of mitochondrial DNA in analyzing the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.  Kaye also examines legal milestones, such as People v. Castro, 545 N.Y.S. 985, 999 (Sup. Ct. 1989), in which Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld convinced Judge Gerald Scheindlin to restrict the admissibility of the prosecution’s DNA evidence because the private testing laboratory “failed in several major respects to use the generally accepted scientific techniques and experiments for obtaining reliable results, within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.”

Kaye’s book is not what I expected from the title, but surprises can be pleasant, as was this one.  Kaye draws from his substantial experience and his prior legal scholarship to create a concise and highly readable text devoted to the basics of DNA evidence and its historical development.  The book is not a comprehensive analysis of legal precedent governing DNA evidence, but that was not Kaye’s goal.  As Kaye explains, his work “is a tale of scientific egos, journalistic hype, lawyerly maneuvering, and judicial doctrine and disposition.”  Kaye starts the tale with biological evidence before DNA, such as the common A, B, and O blood types, and moves through the various stages of how courts and litigants reacted to the new actor on the legal stage.

Kaye’s explanations of the intricacies of DNA evidence are accessible to lawyers not having any specialized scientific training.  Kaye details the contributions of the major players, including experts such as Richard Lewontin, Daniel Hartle, and Eric Lander, lawyers Scheck and Neufeld, and the 1992 and 1996 reports of the National Research Council.  Kaye similarly explains the now classic “prosecutor’s fallacy” as applied to DNA evidence.

Read More


Teaching Sexual Violence

teacherI’m into week two of Evidence, which is one of my favorite classes to teach — full of vivid examples and fun hypotheticals, which make it relatively easy to keep students engaged.  Each year, however, I hit the tricky problem of how to deal with the sections of the course that cover crimes of sexual violence while maintaining the pedagogical goals of maximizing participation in class discussion and encouraging thorough and comprehensive study habits.  There are two main parts to this question — how to approach cold-call questioning in this area of the course and how to test these issues.  I’m sure others who teach evidence, criminal law, international criminal law, and similar courses have faced these problems, and I’m eager to hear how you’ve addressed them. Read More