Saturday, April 07, 2007

(Maryland) Comments On Rape Law Elicit Outrage - Doctrine from the 1600s Cited by Md. Delegate

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. said he was providing a history lesson. Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. said he was providing a history lesson.

Maryland) Comments On Rape Law Elicit Outrage
Doctrine from the 1600s Cited by Md. Delegate
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post
Friday, April 6, 2007; Page B01

A senior Maryland lawmaker this week invoked a 17th-century English jurist who instructed juries to be suspicious of women's claims of rape, infuriating women's advocates and some lawmakers who say the comments were insensitive.

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, recalled the words of Sir Matthew Hale at a hearing Tuesday on a bill to deny custody, visitation and other parental rights to rapists whose victims conceive and have a child.

Vallario, 70, a criminal defense lawyer who often views victims' rights legislation with skepticism, said he quoted Hale, whose comments defined English common law in sexual assault cases for about three centuries, to give his committee a history lesson. But by implying that women could say they were raped when they weren't, he raised questions over whether he personally supports an outdated view of rape.

After the bill's sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Jamin B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), testified Tuesday, Vallario expressed concern that a man could lose his rights as a father in a family court even if he was not convicted of rape in a criminal court, lawmakers and advocates in attendance said. He also suggested that women could abuse the law by saying they were raped to punish a man from whom they were estranged.

There were no reporters or cameras at the hearing, nor was it recorded.

Vallario then recalled Hale's instructions to juries. A delegate on the committee searched the Internet for the exact words of the prominent British lawyer, who, as England's chief justice in the 1670s, instructed juries to be skeptical of rape claims: "Rape is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, and harder yet to be defended by the party accused."

Raskin said he told Vallario that it is not easy for a woman to allege rape. He said he noted that Hale's words were not relevant to the paternity bill since the General Assembly passed a law in 1987 prohibiting judges from instructing juries to be skeptical of rape claims.

Asked about the comments yesterday, Vallario said: "It was a way to bring the committee into the history of that [instruction to juries] to members who had not been familiar with it," he said. "The Lord Hale law is no longer the law in the state. That's why I voted to repeal it." Vallario said yesterday that he would support the paternity bill if it is amended to give fathers adequate notice of a hearing in which their paternal rights could be taken away.

But women's advocates said they were appalled by the comments. "People were a bit taken aback that the chairman of the committee would be citing what is archaic and misogynistic doctrine," said Lisae Jordan, legislative counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We hope these are not his personal views."

The Senate unanimously passed the legislation last month, but it has not cleared the House Judiciary Committee. The denial of paternity would apply in a small number of rape cases: About 5 percent of rapes lead to pregnancies, advocates say, and many of those end in abortions. But women's rights groups and the Maryland Catholic Conference, which supports the measure as a means to discourage abortions, say the current law should be strengthened to protect rape victims who give birth.

The bill's House sponsor, Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), said: "I respect Joe, but I did think his comments were insensitive. . . . I'm concerned with the perception of many committee members that women are out to misuse the system." Six of the committee's 22 members are women.

Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), president of the House women's caucus, said, "Obviously, he hasn't moved forward" into the 21st century.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who was not at the hearing, defended Vallario as a "model citizen" and said he had been married to the same woman for about 40 years and has a close-knit family with several daughters.


Post a Comment

<< Home