“Assume that all sexual assault cases are valid unless established otherwise by investigative findings”
Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors rely on evidence that is accurate, complete, and unbiased. And ethics codes require investigators to do their work in an impartial and honest manner:
- International Association of Chiefs of Police: “The law enforcement officer shall be concerned equally in the prosecution of the wrong-doer and the defense of the innocent. He shall ascertain what constitutes evidence and shall present such evidence impartially and without malice.”
- Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council: “The fundamental philosophical assumption upon which all CDITC policies are predicated is that the criminal defense investigator must be an impartial and objective seeker of truth.”
- World Association of Detectives: “We will be faithful and diligent in carrying out assignments entrusted to us, and to determine the true facts and render honest, unbiased reports in reference thereto.”
- National Council of Investigation and Security Services: “A member shall observe, and adhere to the precepts of honesty, integrity, and truthfulness.”
- National Association of Legal Investigators: The investigator “Will make all reporting based upon truth and fact and will only express honest opinions based thereon”
- Council of International Investigators: Members agree to “conduct myself in my profession with honesty, sincerity, integrity, fidelity, morality and good conscience in all dealings with my clients.”
In light of these ethical mandates, the expansion of so-called “victim-centered” investigations is worrisome. Its proponents assert that:
- “Assume that all sexual assault cases are valid unless established otherwise by investigative findings.” (p. 23) — Human Rights Watch
- “A thorough investigation must therefore begin from a position of Start by Believing.” — Start by Believing
- Investigators should hand “control of the process back to the victim” (p. 9) and allow the complainant “to request certain investigative steps not be conducted” (p. 13) — Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services and Police Executive Research Forum
VCI proponents don’t use the words “complainant” or “accuser.” They only refer to “victims” and “survivors,” conclusory words that presume that a crime in fact did occur and serve to remove the presumption of innocence from the accused. Relying on victim-centered investigations, criminal adjudications could come to resemble the accounts of Black men accused of rape during the Jim Crow era:
“Blacks were found guilty upon mere accusation, with no substantive evidence offered, no adequate counsel granted, and no real attempt on the part of the courts to provide evenhanded justice.” — Jerrold Packard, American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow. Page 133
CPI recommends that investigators follow justice-centered investigative procedures—
- Discharge their duties with objectivity and impartiality.
- Make reasonable efforts to contact all potential witnesses, in addition to those recommended by the complainant or accused.
- Seek to gather and disclose both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence, and make all such evidence available to the complainant and the accused.
- Thoroughly document and/or videotape all communications with the complainant and accused, as well as with potential witnesses, evidence collected, and interviews conducted, which shall be made available to the complainant and accused prior to appearing in court or before a disciplinary panel.
- Compile and evaluate evidence in an impartial manner before rendering an opinion.
Letters to Organizations
- Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and Police Executive Research Forum
- Human Rights Watch:
- Start by Believing
- Margolis Healy
Examples of Wrongful Convictions
In recent years, numerous wrongful convictions have been traced to biased investigations. These are a few examples:
- Brian Banks – Charged with forcible rape despite a complete lack of physical evidence, inconsistencies in the complainant’s statements, and implausibility of the allegation. Ultimately, the complainant confessed to fabricating the allegation.
- Violet Amirault – Charged with child sexual assault while operating a day care facility in the 1980s. According to the appellate court, Ms. Amirault, was the victim of “overzealous” investigators who succumbed to a “climate of panic, if not hysteria.” The children’s accounts were tainted by suggestive interviewing techniques and were coerced by investigators who refused to take a denial of abuse as an answer.
- Reginald Connor – Charged and convicted of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl based on the report of a drug-addicted police informant. However, police did not document the statements by witnesses who offered exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Connor. Further, the police did not inform the prosecution about any of the exculpatory statements. Ultimately, DNA and witness statements allowed Connor’s charges to be vacated.
- William Vasquez – He was charged for arson after the home owner, a known drug addict with a motivation to lie, testified that she saw Vasquez leaving her home just before the explosion. The complainant gave numerous inconsistent statements and there was zero corroborative physical evidence. The complainant later recanted her story before she died. Vasquez was exonerated in 2015.
- Joe Cohn: Arizona Governor’s Office Questions Whether Investigators Should “Start By Believing” – Dec. 19
- Eugene Volokh: Don’t ‘start by believing’ – Dec. 15
- College Fix: Arizona urges law enforcement to avoid program that prejudges people accused of rape – Dec. 15
- Richard Davis: Victim Centered Investigations: COPS/PERF Report Gets It All Wrong – Nov. 14
- Ashe Schow: Rights group calls on presidential candidates to denounce ‘victim-centered investigations’ – Aug. 11
- Barbara Hewson: False Allegations: A Stain on Justice – August 4
- College Fix: Due-process group launches campaign against ‘victim-centered’ rape investigations – June 1
- Victor Zheng: I Was Falsely Accused of Rape: ‘Victim-Centered Investigations’ are a Travesty of Justice – April 20
- Barbara Hewson: The feminising of justice that makes it hard for men charged with rape to get a fair trial, writes human rights lawyer – April 13
- Michael Conzachi: College Sexual Assault Investigative Process Now Compromised by University Police and May be in Violation of Federal Law – March 26
- Christine Damon: US needs to restore impartiality in dealing with sexual assault allegations – March 10
- December 19: Arizona Governor Rejects ‘Start By Believing,’ Calls on Prosecutors to Assure Impartial Investigations
- October 17: Expert Panel Calls on Lawmakers, Criminal Justice Leaders to Bring an End to ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations
- October 4: Police Forum Report Undermines Impartial Investigations, Promotes Wrongful Convictions, CPI Claims
- September 29: ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations Imperil the Presumption of Innocence, CPI Alleges
- September 27: Human Rights Watch Report Will Worsen Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System, CPI Charges
- September 19: How ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations Undermine the Presumption of Innocence and Victimize the Innocent: Upcoming Teleconference
- September 12: Following Revelations of Gross Investigative Misconduct, CPI Calls on Prosecutors to Restore Impartiality and Honesty in Criminal Investigations
- August 9: CPI Calls on Candidates Clinton and Trump to Renounce ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations as an Affront to Justice