Alleged rapist's rights vs. accuser's rights debated after suicide attempt



Posted on November 5, 2010 at 5:56 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 5 at 7:51 PM

SEATTLE – Rather than face the man she says raped her as a child, a woman nearly took her own life Thursday as she threatened to jump off the roof of the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

The accused, Salvadore Aleman Cruz, was acting as his own attorney. He was set to cross-examine the woman until she ran to the roof of the courthouse.

The case is firing up an old debate within the judicial system.

"It highlights why the rights to represent yourself pro se can be so controversial," said University of Washington law professor Mary Fan. She has been watching this case closely.

"A great strategy would be to appoint standby counsel and it can just be standby council for the point of cross examination," said Fan. She says closed circuit television can also be used to cross-examine.

Defense attorney Jeff Cohen says, however, it's up to a judge to decide what measures to take and emotions cannot get in the way of the law.

"The reality is that everybody is presumed innocent, so we start with that premise and there are constitutional rights that are associated with the states effort to convict someone," said Cohen.

That includes the defendant's constitutional right to confront their accusers.

The woman in this case was safely brought down, but the battle is not over. Testimony will resume Monday. A decision on whether the case should be declared a mistrial may come then. A delicate balance says Fan, considering rights of both the accused and accuser.

"This incident may be a wake-up call in future cases with young victims particularly in sexual assault cases where judges may want to consider standby council," said Fan.

A bill that would have prevented defendants from directly questioning victims of sexual abuse failed in the legislature this year.