Guilty Because Charged

Guilty or innocent.

Even the most thoroughgoing of penological liberals, I have noticed, has a category of crime – a favourite of sorts, I suppose – that he thinks ought to be severely punished. However much he may deny that punishment is justified, morally or practically, for other crimes, the crime he has selected as being of special heinousness deserves only the most condign punishment. All other crimes may in his opinion merit, and be susceptible only to, explanation and understanding, but this crime must, for moral reasons, be treated with exemplary harshness.

At present in Britain the crime selected by penological liberals for special severity is rape. While they are perfectly happy for other criminals to be treated with leniency, and are fierce in their support for every conceivable protection for the accused, they find the sentences given to rapists to be totally, even ludicrously, inadequate, and sometimes argue for a different standard of proof to secure conviction of the accused. The presumption of innocence ought in this case be abandoned or at least diluted; and because in this crime there can be no smoke without fire, they are distressed that so many cases end in acquittal.

This vengefulness, so ill-assorted with the rest of the penological liberal’s outlook, was succinctly expressed in an article in the normally liberal British newspaper, the Guardian, in a recent article about the case of Ched Evans.

Evans was a prominent professional footballer who was convicted, aged 23, of rape and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, of which he served half before being released on parole. He has always maintained his innocence and is currently appealing his conviction.

Without knowing all the evidence available to the court, there do seem strange aspects to this case which, however, is inglorious on even the most charitable possible view towards the accused.

I cannot do better than quote the newspaper’s summary of the events, inelegant as it is, that led to Evans’ prosecution and conviction:

Evans does not contest the facts of what he did: he went to [an hotel] after receiving a text       from a friend and former colleague at Manchester City’s academy [a football training school], Clayton McDonald, to the effect ‘I’ve got a bird.’ The prosecution argued that Evans booked the room solely to take girls to, and that the pair were ‘in the lookout for any girl who was a suitable target. Evans denied that, saying in his defence the room was for McDonald and another friend to stay in.

On arriving in the room, Evans found McDonald, who had bumped into the girl in  kebab shop when she was drunk, having sex with her. Both Evans and McDonald agreed that his response to seeing the girl for the first time was that she was asked if Evans could ‘join in’ and he did.

Evans claims she consented; she said she had no memory of that part of the evening because she was intoxicated. The alcohol expert who gave evidence on Evans’ behalf… agreed that the victim may have had no memory of the events, while arguing she can still have been capable at the time to have consented to having sex with Evans.

McDonald left the hotel room, telling the night porter to look out for the girl, because she was ‘sick.’ After Evans finished having sex with her – his brother and friend were outside trying to film events on their mobile phones – she went to sleep. Evans left the hotel by the fire escape and went to his parents’ house [nearby]…

If this is an accurate summary of the case against Evans (which I do not know that it is), his conviction could only be regarded as unsafe. The complainant cannot know whether she gave consent or not, but the law in England holds that drunken consent to sex is nevertheless consent. However, if a person is so drunk that she cannot give consent, for example by being inarticulate with drink, sexual intercourse with her would be rape.

The alcohol expert who testified on behalf of Evans was, from the pharmacological point of view, quite right; it is perfectly possible for someone to do many things while drunk (including, for example, driving home) and yet not remember afterwards having done them. From this account, the complainant could not deny the possibility that what Evans said was true, namely that she had consented; and it is at least possible that what Evans said was true, there being no evidence that it was false. It follows from this that (again on this account) that Evans cannot be guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, it is very odd that McDonald was found innocent and Evans guilty. One might have supposed that either they were both guilty or both innocent, for there is nothing between the two episodes of sexual intercourse that would explain why she was able to give consent to the first but unable to the second. And there was no evidence, nor was it claimed, that Evans had used physical force against her.

Again, I must stress that I do not have the totality of the evidence, and that the above summary might have missed much that was important. And even if Evans is eventually cleared at appeal, his behaviour (and the subculture in which it is not untypical) is distasteful at the least.

After his release on parole from prison, Evans tried to resume his lucrative professional footballing career. The football club for which he had played at the time of his conviction, Sheffield United, initially took him back, but public reaction was so negative that it soon reversed its decision. Another club, Oldham Athletic, agreed to take him on, but again reaction was negative and some members of the public sent menacing messages, including threats (here one can only admire the fineness of the logic) to rape the wives of some of the staff if he were employed.

Penological liberals would probably be outraged if, for example, a released murderer were refused access to the airwaves or permission to publish a book on the grounds that he was a murderer. But most of them would be equally outraged if a convicted rapist were permitted to resume playing football. Rape is thus a more serious offence than murder, or football a more important activity than broadcasting or writing.

However, it was the last paragraph of the article in the Guardian that struck me as deeply sinister. It read in part: Whether or not [his appeal] is successful, Ched Evans has a great deal more to do before he can find acceptance again as a professional footballer…

In other words, he is guilty even if he is found innocent. So the penological liberal adopts the great principle of totalitarian jurisprudence: guilty because charged.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on January 22, 2015 at 12:13:28 pm

[…] Guilty Because Charged […]

read full comment
Image of More on Bias in the Implementation of Sexual Assault Laws - Freedom's Floodgates
More on Bias in the Implementation of Sexual Assault Laws - Freedom's Floodgates
on January 22, 2015 at 15:57:58 pm

I share Dalrymple’s view that the fact as he has described them, if accurate, justifies a conclusion that the court erred in convicting Evens of rape. I also share his suspicion that many people who are otherwise disposed to leniency with respect to many criminal sentences may not extend that leniency to convicted rapists. The arguments purporting to demonstrate this second proposition, however, seem substantially weaker.

Football teams faced a pushback when Evans tried to join them. Bummer. But sports are entertainment, and public tastes are really beyond appeal. Plenty of actors had their careers ruined by the anti-communist blacklist. Paul Reubens had a hit show with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse -- until he was charged with indecent exposure. Mel Gibson was at the peak of his acting/directing career in 2006 -- when he became notorious for drunken driving and anti-Semitism. And the list of athletes suspended for behaving badly is quite long as well. In short, if your line of work involves appealing to a mass audience, you live and die based on public sympathy and opprobrium. This dynamic is hardly unique to those accused of rape.

Moreover, it is unclear that people who bridle at state-imposed restrictions on free speech must also extend the same objections to the choice of private firms refusing to hire someone based on notoriety – much less, refuse to hire someone at the salary typically commanded by professional athletes. And if a private publisher or broadcaster declined to retain the services of someone notorious -- whether for rape, murder, or whathaveyou -- I don’t know that many people would find this at all remarkable. OJ Simpson was not convicted of murder, yet the widespread suspicion that he committed murder has torpedoed his public career pretty thoroughly. Again, it is far from clear that rape is the relevant explanatory variable here.

Let’s park the paranoia bus, stretch our legs, and get some fresh air.

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
on January 22, 2015 at 18:07:33 pm

"get some fresh air."

In light of the current Patriots situation, would this be at proper p.s.i. or some deflated level.

Your argument (correct BTW) may come into play with this silly "deflate-gate." And when will we ever stop "gating" every dang thing!

read full comment
Image of gabe
on January 26, 2015 at 23:18:59 pm

I think the article conflates two separate issues: a very possibly unsafe conviction for rape in the criminal justice system with conviction as a scumbag in the court of public opinion. Yes, we expect some consistency and fair treatment from the criminal justice system (no matter how often we are disappointed in it). However, Nobody Really is correct that the entertainment business is entirely open to perceptions and nobody should expect consistency or fairness in that arena. I never watch movies with Cate Blanchett in them because I don't like her idiotic politics. Reasonable? No. My prerogative as a customer? Totally.

read full comment
Image of Grandma

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.