The prosecutors say that testimony from the teenager, who twice ran away from a foster home before scheduled court appearances, is critical in the upcoming trial against a man who has a long criminal record and is also suspected of raping at least one other woman. But the teenager’s lawyer and victims’ advocates say that the detention would discourage others, especially those who have been sexually assaulted, from coming forward. They described the move as a setback in a state with some of the country’s strongest laws protecting victims.
Both sides agree that the detention of a material witness, particularly a juvenile, is extremely rare. The girl, who has been held in a juvenile detention center since March 23, is scheduled to appear on Monday at a hearing concerning her detention at Sacramento Superior Court.
The girl was 16 and staying at a foster home when she was attacked in July, the authorities say. She had gone out with friends one evening in Sacramento, officials said, when the suspect, Frank William Rackley, 37, is said to have abducted her from a light rail station and raped her. Prosecutors have been forced to postpone the trial against Mr. Rackley because of the teenager’s missed court appearances.
Officials in the Sacramento district attorney’s office have said that they were reluctant to detain the teenager but that it was necessary for the public good.
Lisa M. Franco, the teenager’s lawyer, said the detention violated Marsy’s Law, a 2008 amendment to the state’s Constitution that guarantees victims be free of intimidation during the criminal justice process. That provision should supersede the authorities’ power to detain a material witness, Ms. Franco said.
“She’s afraid of confronting her rapist, and she doesn’t want to testify,” Ms. Franco said. “By imprisoning her it’s just punitive, punishing her for not wanting to testify, which is contrary to what Marsy’s Law stands for. She’s being bullied because she doesn’t want to do what the D.A. wants her to do. She’s having a horrible time in there. She’s in a place where they put criminals.”
Ms. Franco has proposed releasing her to a foster home with a GPS tracking device around her ankle.
Experts said that prosecutors were generally extremely hesitant to exercise their power to detain material witnesses because they rely on their cooperation.
“This is something that has existed for a long time and exists almost everywhere, but almost nobody uses it very much,” said Floyd F. Feeney, a criminal law expert at the University of California, Davis. “But if you had a juvenile who’s flitting back and forth and got lots of problems and is the key witness in a case against a really bad actor, I wouldn’t think it would be that unusual for the D.A.’s office to consider holding her as a material witness.”
Marsy’s Law is based on a ballot measure that California voters approved in 2008. Though supporters said it strengthened victims’ rights, critics said it would violate prisoners’ rights and merely serve to swell the state’s prison population.
While 32 other states have passed similar constitutional amendments, none guarantee victims’ rights as explicitly as Marsy’s Law does, said Meg Garvin, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., and the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute there.
“Marsy’s Law is the newest, most comprehensive constitutional amendment in the country,” Ms. Garvin said. “It really is cutting edge. That’s why some other states are looking at it as a model, including Illinois.”
She added: “This constitutional amendment was supposed to protect victims. But the fact that a rape victim is being held in detention is not only unusual, it is outrageous.”
Advocates for rape victims said that the case could make it even more difficult to persuade victims to report sexual assaults.
“They may become reluctant to seek assistance if they feel this will trigger the criminal justice system and lead to them being forced to testify,” said Sandra Henriquez, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Sacramento.
The trial against Mr. Rackley is now scheduled to start on April 23. The suspect, a convicted felon with a criminal history two decades old, was identified by the teenager because of a large swastika tattooed on his chest, Ms. Franco said. According to prosecutors, DNA evidence from the suspect was also found on the teenager. Lawyers from the Public Defender’s Office representing Mr. Rackley could not be reached for comment.
... not entirely sure what to say there.