Contact: Chris Perry

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Arizona Governor Rejects ‘Start By Believing,’ Calls on Prosecutors to Assure Impartial Investigations

WASHINGTON / December 19, 2016 – The Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family has advised Arizona criminal justice agencies to not adopt the Start By Believing investigative method because it “creates the possibility of real or perceived confirmation bias.” Instead, Douglas Ducey’s Office urges that sexual assault allegations be investigated so law enforcement conduct an “un-biased investigation of allegations of sexual assault.” (1)

Start By Believing may also undermine prosecutions as legal challenges to biased investigations are raised by defense counsel. The Governor’s letter noted, “During a recent case in Iowa, a detective testified that the campaign required him to believe the victim, ‘no matter what.’ The prosecutor in the case explained, “…the [Start By Believing] verbiage is what’s killing everybody in court.”

The Arizona directive has national implications because the federal Department of Justice has recently published a report urging investigators to hand “control of the process back to the victim” and allow the complainant “to request certain investigative steps not be conducted.” CPI believes this would severely compromise the ability of detectives to conduct a proper investigation. (2)

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity has previously communicated concerns to End Violence Against Women International, noting that “Start By Believing, rather than removing bias, only serves to substitute one preconception for another.” (3)

On October 4, an Expert Panel consisting of investigators, attorneys, and others analyzed victim-centered investigative approaches such as Start By Believing, and concluded such methods “violate ethical requirements for impartial and honest investigations, are inconsistent with basic notions of fairness and justice, and give rise to wrongful convictions and determinations of guilt.” (4)

The Start By Believing approach may have harmful consequences for rape victims, as well. Harvard Law Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen contends, “The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims.” (5)

CPI recommends that prosecutors assure that investigators adhere to fundamental principles of fairness, objectivity, and honesty. More information on victim-centered investigations is available. (6)




The Center for Prosecutor Integrity is working to strengthen prosecutorial ethics, end wrongful convictions, and restore the presumption of innocence.