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Teenage Rape Victim Facing Contempt Charges For Naming Her Attackers

A Kentucky teenager is facing the possibility of jail time for publicly revealing the name of her teenager rapists:

Frustrated by what she felt was a lenient plea bargain for two teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her and circulating pictures of the incident, a Louisville 17-year-old lashed out on Twitter.

“There you go, lock me up,” Savannah Dietrich tweeted, as she named the boys who she said sexually assaulted her. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”

Now, Dietrich is facing a potential jail sentence, as the attorneys for the boys have asked a Jefferson District Court judge to hold her in contempt because they say that in naming her attackers, she violated the confidentiality of a juvenile hearing and the court’s order not to speak of it.

A contempt charge carries a potential sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys,” said Dietrich, who waived confidentiality in her case to speak to The Courier-Journal. Her parents also gave their written permission for her to speak with the newspaper.

“I’m at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it,” she said. “If they really feel it’s necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me … as opposed to throwing these boys in jail for what they did to me, then I don’t understand justice.”

The article goes on to note that the judge hearing the case admonished all the parties, and their attorneys, not to talk about what had happened in Court and Dietrich says she felt she was complying with the Order since she didn’t, and won’t, discuss what happened in Court or the specific allegations against the Defendants. There’s definitely an argument that the Judge’s gag order may be overly broad. Is a person who’s stating the names of the people who attacked her without talking about the details of the case really violating an order not to talk about what happened in court? It’s a fine line, and some First Amendment experts argue that the Judge’s Order goes too far:

Leslie, of the press freedom committee, said Dietrich should “not be legally barred from talking about what happened to her. That’s a wide-ranging restraint on speech.”

“By going to court, you shouldn’t lose the legal right to talk about something.”

But other legal experts said Dietrich knew the court’s order was in place and had a responsibility not to violate it, regardless of whether it was overly broad.

David Marburger, an Ohio media law specialist, said even if the judge is limiting freedom of speech with an order, “it doesn’t necessarily free you from that order. You have to respect the order and get the judge to vacate the order or get a higher court to restrain the judge from enforcing the order.”

Jo Ann Phillips, who heads Kentuckians Voice for Crime Victims, said she doesn’t blame Dietrich for standing up for what she felt was an injustice, but said she should have gone about it another way.

“This (assault) could affect her for the rest of her life and the fact that she said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ you have to applaud her,” Phillips said. “But you also have to respect authority.

” … She should have gone to a victims’ group or her local legislator and fought for the right to speak out.”

Yes, she probably should have, but I’m not sure that you can expect a rape victim, and a teenager no less, who feels like her attackers are getting off easy to go about things in a calm and peaceful manner. She was quite obviously pissed off, and she behaved accordingly. Nonetheless, I think those who are saying she made a mistake a probably correct, at least as far as the law is concerned. Ignoring a court order is serious offense, and Dietrich is old enough to understand the consequences of doing that. Indeed, reports indicate that it was the fact that she was being told not to talk about the case, combined with what she thought was a relatively generous guilty plea agreement, that caused her to speak out in the first place. That’s not a legal defense, though, and she’s now left herself open for a contempt charge that could send her to jail.

Despite all of that, though, it strikes me that it would be pretty egregious to punish someone in Dietrich’s position. Yes, she violated the Court’s order, but I would hope that the judge would keep in mind that she’s the victim here and that punishing her harshly under these circumstances could have unintended consequences. If Dietrich is punished for confronting her attackers, that may send a message to other rape victims, especially teenagers, that would discourage them from coming forward in the first place and that’s not something we want to see happening. Additionally, there’s something fundamentally unfair about punishing the victim to begin with when the main reason for the violation of the Court Order, clearly, is related to the trauma of the attack. In a contempt hearing, the judge has nearly complete discretion in determining how, or even if, to sanction the accused and would be perfectly within their rights to dismiss the charge notwithstanding the violation. That strikes me as the human thing to do.

Update: Eugene Volokh argues that gag order as applied in this situation is clearly unconstitutional:

An order barring a victim from revealing the names of her assailants is, I think, clearly unconstitutional, even when the assailants are juveniles. Oklahoma Publishing Co. v. District Court (1977) expressly rejected the notion that courts or legislatures may bar the publication of the names of juvenile offenders; that case involved a newspaper’s publishing the name of the juvenile offender, which it learned from a court hearing, but the rationale applies at least as strongly to a person’s publishing a name that she learned from the attack itself. Likewise, even when it comes to grand jury proceedings — probably the most historically secret part of the criminal justice system — Butterworth v. Smith (1990) held that, while a grand jury witness could be barred from revealing what he learned as part of the grand jury proceedings, the witness could not be generally barred from revealing information that he had learned on his own (even if that was the subject of his testimony).

The same applies here, I think. Dietrich revealed what she knew even before the trial — the names of her attackers — and that they are juveniles cannot strip her of her First Amendment rights on this score. And while she also revealed that they got a plea bargain, something she presumably learned through the court proceedings, that strikes me as the sort of information about the court system and the prosecutor’s office that the state cannot stop people from revealing.

Volokh goes on to note, however, that Dietrich did create a problem for herself by violating the order rather than seeking to vacate it, and cites a 1967 Supreme Court case for the proposition that even an unconstitutional order must be obeyed, although there is an exception for what are called “transparently invalid” court orders.

Update: The contempt motion against Dietrich has been withdrawn.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jim says:

    This woman was brutalized, she’s letting people know who hurt her. Where is the crime in that? If Dietrich is punished or sent to prison for this, it’s another sign that our justice system isn’t worth anything anymore.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 0

  2. CSK says:

    It will be even more Kafkaesque if she got sentenced to six months in jail and the boys, being juveniles, got sentenced to one months’ community service.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  3. JKB says:

    Here’s hoping that if they pursue this the good people of the county let the judge and prosecutor know somewhere else is a good place to live and practice law in the future. Somewhere far, far away

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. Jamie says:

    This case is disgusting. The girl was not just sexually assaulted, but the boys also took pictures of it and shared them around the town and school. She had zero privacy, yet the judge wants the criminals to have theirs? Bull!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 0

  5. Just Me says:

    I think given the fact that she knew the names because she was victimized by them pretty much gives her the right to say what she wants including their names publicly as long as what she says isn’t libelous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  6. Racehorse says:

    This is just another example of the soft on crime judges that show more sympathy for the criminals than the victims! This judge needs to be replaced or impeached. Judges should be held accountable for their decisions!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 9

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @Jamie:

    I suspect that the males involved were younger than the girl and that the only proof of sexual abuse (Kentucky legal term) were the pictures.

    That a 17 y/o girl was passed out drunk does not help a prosecutor establish the lack of consent of the part of the girl.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 37

  8. anjin-san says:

    @ Super

    I suspect that the males involved were younger than the girl and that the only proof of sexual abuse (Kentucky legal term) were the pictures.

    In other words, you don’t know the facts, but your natural sympathies seem to be with the guys who committed the assault, not with the victim. Color me shocked.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  9. Davebo says:

    Hey superdestroyer, I hear they were Mexicans! Does that change your pathetic perspective?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  10. @superdestroyer:

    Yes, because when a girl is drunk a guy can do whatever he wants to her.

    How pathetic.

    (Just so there’s no misunderstanding, the first sentence is intended to be sarcastic)

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  11. CSK says:

    Superdestroyer, it’s a tad difficult to consent to anything when you’re passed out cold.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Sorry guys, while it is pathetic, and certainly an injustice in this case, what happens in Juvenile Court, stays in Juvenile Court. That is the law and the judge is as bound to it (even more so) as you or I or, yes, even Savannah. Hopefully, rational minds will rule the day and she will get sentenced to some counseling and maybe 10 hrs of community service.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @anjin-san:

    The girl was 17 and the criminal trial was in juvenile court. That means that the males were 17 or under and if they were 17 the state could have possibly prosecuted them as adults. So, since the ages of the males were not mentioned, there are reasons to believe that they were less than 17.

    In addition, since the rape report was made months after the night of the incident, there is little physical proof other than the pictures taken by the males. Who can say that the girl did not say something while drunk and then forgot what she said.

    As for rape laws, why are males treated as responsible for their actions when they are drunk but females are considered helpless when drunk? How can any progressive support rape laws that treat women as helpless victims. Remember the Hofstra false rape allegations that only stopped due to a video. http://jezebel.com/5362529/lessons-from-hofstra-why-rape-and-false-accusations-are-part-of-the-same-problem People should be wary of women who want to run to the media screaming rape.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 17

  14. Shada67 says:

    @CSK: More so if, since she is also a juvenile, she was sentenced to serve community service next to these two monsters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. george says:

    I really hope this gets overturned – this sounds absolutely insane.

    Talking to the press is worse than committing rape? Seriously?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Just Me says:

    Superdestroyer your link doesn’t seem to follow some of these facts though.

    The accused took and posted the pictures-or shared them in some fashion.

    The accused then plead guilty with a plea agreement.

    Also, in most jurisdictions somebody who is impaired is presumed to be unable to consent. If she was passed out in the pictures, her ability to say “no” doesn’t matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @Just Me:

    The question is if she does not remember having sex until months later, then who can say what she consented to or whether the males were in a state where they could determine what she was saying.

    I wonder if the lawyers for the males decided to take a juvenile plea since it will not haunt the boys forever like it would have it they had been pled guilty as adults.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Super

    in most jurisdictions somebody who is impaired is presumed to be unable to consent.

    What part of this is too complicated for your tiny brain to comprehend?

    Like I said, you clearly identify with the perps, not the victim. I don’t think anyone is surprised.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Ben says:

    That court order is so ridiculously unconstitutional, I can’t believe the judge made it with a straight face. A judge absolutely cannot put a gag order on someone who isn’t a party to a case. A victim is not a party to a case, and witnesses cannot be gagged about a case, except for the things they learn at a grand jury, as Volokh said. Ridiculously, certainly, facially invalid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Craigo says:

    @superdestroyer: She never claimed that she did not remember. It’s common for sexual assault victims to be unwilling to come forward immediately, partially because there’s always a few pro-rape assholes who will say that she wanted it.

    I myself will not name names, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Franklin says:

    Is a person who’s stating the names of the people who attacked her without talking about the details of the case really violating an order not to talk about what happened in court?

    I think this is an excellent question, Doug. Regardless of whether the court order is constitutional, what is the exact wording of it? And what, precisely, did she say that violated the exact wording?

    Anyway, I’m glad she’s fighting it, I’m sure somebody will be happy to pay her legal bills.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. SDN says:

    Someone needs to remind Volokh that following any sort of unconstitutional orders as a defense went out of the legal lexicon in 1946-47.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. I would suggest you read the cases Volokh cited. Then, after you become a tenured Law Professor, you can tell him where he got it wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. emirjame says:

    @superdestroyer: The guys were definitely not drunk when they posted that video. For the rest: it is not ok. for a guy to have sex with a woman who is drunk/ passed out and he doesn’t have some form of close relationship with already. If he is so drunk that he cannot remember this – he is still at fault. And as for the girl being passed out: it is very easy to put a ‘rape drug’ in a drink.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @emirjame:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. superdestroyer says:

    @emirjame:

    How do you know that the males were not drunk. The female was at a party where there was enough to drunk to get her dead drunk. Yet, you would argue that the males did not drink anything.

    Also, how to reconcile the idea that females can be too drunk to give consent but that males cannot be too drunk to determine if consent has been given? That sounds very much like a sexist double standard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  27. Craigo says:

    @superdestroyer: If you cannot determine whether consent has been given, then you cannot argue that you had consent. You twisted yourself into a pretzel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. rip says:

    Tell me who they were… I’m not part of the order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. rip says:

    @superdestroyer: We’re here to spread the right names and let the people sort them out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @superdestroyer: because rape is a passive activity on the part of the penetrated individual and is an active activity on the part of the penetrating individual. A man can have sex with a totally unconscious female or male. She or he did not give consent. Therefore, the act was rape.

    If you don’t like the so-called “double-standard” then complain to geometry and the fact that females have concave body parts and males use convex body parts to put them into those concave body parts even when the female is unwilling. (males do the same thing to males. Where’s your double-standards now?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. SeemsOddToMe says:

    Seems to me that if these guys were sending pictures all around of what they did, they didn’t care that people knew what they were doing. Not sure why the Judge is protecting the victims.

    It also seems odd to me that this girl’s name has been all over the news. Usually VICTIMS of sexual assault (ESPECIALLY teenage victims) are kept out of the news. This whole thing seems backwards.

    BTW: Does anyone know what their names are? Please post them, if you do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. matt says:

    @superdestroyer: DUuude I was so drunk that I couldn’t tell if consent was given so I banged her anyway!111

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0