SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – A group of attorneys in Utah is trying a new route to get justice for victims of sexual assault. They are taking four cases directly to the Utah Supreme Court. It’s an idea supported by advocates nationwide.
In the 150-page petition, just released Tuesday afternoon, four sexual assault victims: Jane Doe 1 through 4, asks the Utah Supreme Court to appoint a prosecutor to file charges in their cases.
The women are represented by several attorneys including Paul Cassell with the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. They’re challenging the decision by local prosecutors all within the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to not file charges in their cases.
The petition states all the women “made timely reports to law enforcement authorities, who investigated and found the allegations appropriate to present to the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Yet despite the seriousness of the crimes and the compelling evidence demonstration victimization, the office thereafter refused to prosecute.”
In February 2017, Crystal Madill says she was sexually assaulted while getting a massage, but despite meeting with the Salt Lake District Attorney multiple times, the case was not filed.
“The justice system turning me down was a whole new trauma and itself,” said Madill, Jane Doe 4.
She was left confused and heartbroken like so many other victims in her position. She reported the crime to the police, got a rape kit done and relived the trauma only to find no justice.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a particular district attorney’s office I think it has to do with the mindset of our culture in general of not believing sexual assault victims,” said Bethany Warr with Utah Crime Victim’s Legal Clinic.
Warr was Crystal’s attorney during the case. She’s the attorney who represented three of the four women listed in this petition.
The petition is based on Article VIII Sec.16 of the Utah State Constitution which states:
“If a public prosecutor fails or refuses to prosecute, the Supreme Court shall have power to appoint a prosecutor pro tempore.”
The group said it wants to provide a new avenue for victims whose cases are not filed by prosecutors.
“This new legal theory asks us to examine a new pathway and I’m intrigued by that. I don’t know how the supreme court is going to look at it and it’s a fascinating legal question,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
Gill’s office declined to file in all four of these cases, but he says a declination doesn’t mean an assault didn’t occur.
“As 23 years as a prosecutor, I can tell you I’ve met with victims where I know that a crime has happened. That they were victimized. But we may not have the sufficiency of the evidence to be able to carry our burden,” said Gill.
Prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Warr says she understands that burden is tough to meet. However, she says, they’re willing to try new and unusual ways of bringing victims justice.
“We’ve got to have this conversation about under prosecution and not take it personally not take anything as an attack but just as an opportunity to say what’s going on,” said Warr.
Madill said this move gives her hope. If not for her, for victims in the future.
“If I didn’t get justice for myself I could find peace with that but if I can help anyone in the future that goes through this or if I can help the justice system understand victims a little bit more and anyway it’s worth it to me.”
There’s a discrepancy about just how many cases were brought to the district attorney and how many were filed.
According to the research in this petition, from 2003 to 2011, of the 34 percent of cases referred to the DA, only 25-percent were filed. Gill says in 2017 that number was higher between 39 and 45 percent.