Posted by: The Last Liberal Gwinnettian | October 22, 2010

AJC Rules on Truth Behind Barnes’s Rape Shield Ad

Politifact has ruled that the claims made in Roy Barnes’s ad alleging that Nathan Deal proposed a bill which would have weakened Georgia’s rape shield laws is “half-true,” saying that Barnes’s claims are essentially correct but that he should have offered more context:

Barnes’ claim is correct, but it leaves out important details….

A more balanced way to put it is this: Deal started by leading a fight to overhaul the state’s rules of evidence. This included making changes to the rape shield that gave the defense leeway that didn’t exist in state law or federal rules.

Legislators, prosecutors and victims advocates gave Deal fair warning that they would wage war if he didn’t back off.

Still, Deal pursued the change until public protest reached a fevered pitch.  And while he didn’t fight to help rapists or hurt victims, he invested his political capital as second-in-command in the state Senate on behalf of a law that weakened the rape shield act.

Statements that are accurate but leave out important details or take things out of context meet the Truth-O-Meter’s definition of Half True. That’s what we rule.

The article gives a very comprehensive overview of the exact effects that Deal’s proposed bill would have had, noting that the proposed bill did bar the victim’s sexual past from being brought up in court but that it also included four new exceptions to that rule. Among those exceptions was a rule which would have allowed defense attorneys to enter evidence about the victim’s sexual past if the prosecution submitted physical evidence including semen, injury, pregnancy, disease, “or other physical evidence.”

I find this interesting because of the time that this bill was proposed. In 1991, DNA evidence was a bit of a novelty — it had only been in use in the courts since the mid- to late-1980s. Today, it is common practice to collect any semen of bodily fluids when a rape is reported because this evidence could be used to identify the attacker through DNA profiling; in 1991, the DNA movement was just beginning. It is reasonable to suppose that a man with a legal background, a former attorney in fact, would have foreseen the effects of DNA technology on the rules of evidence in criminal cases. To me, proposing a law which specifically allows a rape victim’s sexual past to be fodder for questioning if physical evidence — evidence ripe for DNA testing — is introduced. This seems to create a scenario in which a prosecutor must weigh the wisdom of presenting the most solid evidence possible with the possibility of opening the victim up to mistreatment.

Also worth noting:

  • Many of Deal’s supporters have rightly pointed out that Roy Barnes was, at the time this bill was proposed, a sitting member of the State Bar committee which would have had to pass the new rules of evidence before they would enter into debate in the State Senate, thereby implying that Barnes must have supported (or at least been noncommittal about) the proposal. However, the AJC article says that they attempted to determine the truth of this matter, but that a) the bar doesn’t keep records of votes (and since when do lawyers choose not to generate extra paperwork?), b) Barnes does not recall attending any of the committee meetings, and c) even Nathan Deal’s campaign (and Nathan Deal was also on that same committee with Barnes) could not prove that Barnes voted on the measure.
  • When Nathan Deal brought this bill forward, he was warned ahead of time by prosecutors and victims’ and women’s advocacy groups that they would not allow this bill to pass. He ignored the warning, went on his merry way, and wound up with egg on his face. The bill’s opponents were so dedicated to defeating this bill that Deal was left with no choice but to drop the changes to the rape shield law. Evidently, he underestimated the power of pissed off women. More importantly, this strikes me as a really stupid move — and given Deal’s history of stupid moves, it doesn’t exactly engender confidence in his leadership abilities.

So, did Nathan Deal fight to protect rapists? No, but then any sane person already knew that. But did he propose and defend a bill which would have weakened the rape shield law? Yup.

Then, when this bone-headed political move came back to bite him in the butt, he tried to use a rape victim as a tool to garner donations.

No Deal, Georgia.


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