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March 24, 2013

Life after accusation

Man acquitted of rape wants justice system reform

After he was charged with raping a woman, James Green lost his job, spent nearly a year in jail, was treated like a sex offender before trial and says he spent thousands of dollars on his defense.

Then he was found not guilty.

Now with a better job, a cleared name and a chance to rebuild what he lost while he spent two years fighting the accusation, Green said he’s turning his attention toward what changes he hopes to see in the judicial system and in public awareness so others hopefully won’t have to endure what he did.

“The rape shield law definitely needs reforming,” said Green. “I don’t think the rape shield law should go away, but it being used in the manner it was hurts people.”

Georgia’s rape shield law prohibits information about an accuser’s sexual past from being introduced during a trial except in a few instances. Before the law was put in place — intended to protect legitimate victims from being put on a kind of trial themselves for the way they dress, lifestyle practices or certain other factors — judges exercised their own discretion to determine whether information was relevant to the trial.

Under current law, if, for example, the alleged victim is an admitted prostitute who was with other men the day she claims she was raped, and if she was also a known drug user who might “remember” events differently because of that drug use, the rape shield law and other factors, such as a rule that allows first offenders to not have certain information brought up about their criminal records, could prevent a jury from ever knowing those things. Green’s attorney, Richard Murray, said that while he’s glad for the jury’s not guilty verdict in Green’s trial and wasn’t criticizing the judge, he wishes the law was different.

Green maintains he not only didn’t rape his accuser but never had sex with her. Ashley Hinkle, a forensic biologist from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified about several DNA tests performed on swabs taken from the alleged victim, who was a female relative. Hinkle testified that a DNA test that looks only at the male chromosome found Green’s DNA matched the results, but there is a possibility other people would be matches, too. The other tests either showed the DNA was from someone else or didn’t establish identity.

Murray said he was disturbed at the way the rape shield law prevented him from presenting evidence about the alleged victim’s sexual practices that he believed was relevant, and that he said could have offered some answers about the DNA and why the woman was making allegations.

“This is a horrible case to show how unfair the rape shield statute is,” said Murray. “I just think that was such a disadvantage it could have been a travesty.”

Lawmakers haven’t voiced any recent plans to overhaul the rape shield law in any way. Green said he spoke to state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, about his concerns. Dickson, who has been in office since 2005, said he would have to research the matter.

“That’s the only time I’ve had that call (with concerns about the rape shield law),” Dickson said. “I don’t recall that we have really worked with that particular part of the code during the time I’ve been down here.”

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