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NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

Brock Turner - Stanford Rape Case 2016


Brock Turner

Brock Turner was a Stanford University student athlete swimmer who was convicted on three counts of felony sexual assault on January 18, 2015. Mr. Turner, then a 19 year old freshman, encountered the victim, a 22 year old alumna of a different school, at a Kappa Alpha fraternity party. Mr. Turner claimed to have met the victim, had a beer with her, kissed her, then mutually agreed with her to go back to his room. Mr. Turner then claimed that on the way back to his room, the victim slipped on a slope behind a shed and fell to the ground. By his account, Mr. Turner and the victim began to make out on the ground when he asked her if he could digitally penetrate her, to which she verbally agreed. At this point, Mr. Turner said that he got nauseous and got up to vomit when strangers approached speaking to him, but he was unable to understand. The strangers grabbed him, but he was able to break away and make a run for it. Mr. Turner did not make it far though as he was subsequently tackled and arrested. His blood alcohol content was 0.17%, which is more than twice the legal limit for a person to drive, assuming that person is 21 in the first place. The victim’s blood alcohol level was 0.24%, three times the legal limit to drive.

The issue of consent – an often abstract and politicized concept – raises inherent and significant challenges to determining which version of the facts most closely reflects the truth. There is no clear evidentiary compass like DNA to point to a guilty party where physical contact is not at issue. Instead, problems like alcohol consumption, misunderstandings, witness bias, or even poor lighting can result in dramatically differing recollections of events. Unfortunately, the service of justices hinges on hammering out a clear and factually accurate narrative by determining what is true from a collection of both reliable and unreliable testimony.

First, alcohol consumption confuses the reasoning and the memory of said reasoning afterward. Mr. Turner and the victim both had blood alcohol levels that double and tripled the legal limit to drive, so their decision making faculties would undoubtedly be impaired. Similarly, their memories of the events would also be clouded and unclear. Mr. Turner’s victim was essentially blackout drunk; she was unable to remember any of the events leading up to Mr. Turner’s physical contact with her behind the shed. When an individual’s cognitive function is so impaired by alcohol, it is difficult to argue that he or she can consent to anything. It may also be difficult for another intoxicated person to correctly distinguish signs potentially indicating consent from simple drunken gestures. This element of impairment casts shade on the reliability of testimony from both Mr. Turner and the victim.

Thus, the case against Mr. Turner relied heavily on other witness accounts. The victim’s sister testified to an entirely different set of fact than those presented by Mr. Turner. Contrary to Mr. Turner’s account, the victim’s sister testified that she observed no significant contact or communication between Mr. Turner and the victim during the party. In fact, she claimed that there were two instances where Mr. Turner, unknown to either the victim or her sister, approached the victim and tried to kiss her, but she physically withdrew from him. However, at a party where everyone is consuming alcohol, it is possible that the victim’s sister may also have been intoxicated, thus somewhat tarnishing the reliability of her testimony. Further, the loud music of a party could have very much hindered her ability to interpret the exchanges between Mr. Turner and the victim, making her understanding of the contact between the two of them potentially flawed. Finally, being the victim’s sister, she clearly has an interest in siding with her own family over Mr. Turner. She may be motivated to exaggerate or even just perceive the events from a biased perspective from the start.

The two men who approached Mr. Turner and the victim behind the shed also had an account conflicting with Mr. Turner’s version. These men were Swedish grad students who were cycling through the area. They claimed that when they approached the scene, they saw Mr. Turner on top of the unconscious victim behind a dumpster. When they confronted him, he stood up and ran away before they subdued him. In this situation, the two men happened upon Mr. Turner and the victim in a dimly lit area behind a shed in the dark hours of the morning and whatever they saw was perceived from at least a standing distance. If the lighting was too dark to clearly see what was happening, if they misheard key parts of important verbal exchanges between Mr. Turner and the victim, or if the witnesses were exhausted from cycling, there are possible problems with relying on this testimony.

Piecing together the truth is a challenge where parties have conflicting stories, but it is the role of the court to definitively determine what happened. It is important for the court to have the most reliable evidence when the process of meting out justice is underway. However, it is ultimately an inconvenient reality that truth is sometimes a matter of perspective.