For the small percentage of cases that do go to trial, there is an unavoidable vulnerability to the culmination of errors, improper motivations, and the zeal of advocates on either side of the courtroom. This is particularly true of information related to the victim. As described in preceding chapters, victimological information can be compiled ineptly, reported inaccurately, or provided in a biased manner—and that is when it is collected at all. The misinformation that follows may combine during court proceedings to have a tremendous impact.
Victimological information should be gathered objectively and consistently, and then used to describe or evaluate the victims and their circumstances so that judges and juries are privy to information that may be relevant to their decisions. In this context, direct questions must be asked: was the victim using drugs; does the victim have a history of falsely reporting crime; what was the extent of the victim’s physical injuries; was the victim conscious during the attack; does the victim have a history of taking rides from strangers or letting strangers into his or her home; does the victim lock his or her door at night? The judge, who determines what is legally admissible, decides the issue of relevance for these and similarly themed questions. Then, as already discussed, the judge makes a ruling: sometimes everything about a victim is admissible, sometimes nothing, and sometimes the court “splits the baby” by admitting a percentage of victim information.
Presenting victimological information in court involves a different standard from the investigative effort. Investigative victimology gathers everything; the court decides admissibility based on that record in the context of the collective issues in a case. Typically, victimological evidence must serve a particular purpose related to a legal issue to be admissible. For example, victimological information may demonstrate that a crime has actually occurred or that the elements of this case meet the definition of the charges brought against the accused. Information about the victim will undoubtedly contextualize the crime and help to reconstruct exactly what took place and in what order.
Information about the victim may also allow the judge and jury to better understand who the victim is/was, why that person was targeted, how the victim was acquired and harmed, and most importantly by whom. On the other hand, if there is a specific reason to doubt the victim’s credibility or the accuracy of particular statements, victimology may be introduced at trial to bring this to light.
These are just some of the many possible scenarios, but the theme remains clear: to be admissible in court, victimology must be relevant to a factual matter or legal question, and not simply part of a smear campaign.