Mimesis Law
18 February 2019

Poor, Poor Jenny; What To Do, What To Do?

July 25, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The confinement of rape victim “Jenny” after her breakdown on the stand was the subject of a post here and one by Admiral Greenfield at Simple Justice. The Harris County District Attorney, Devon Anderson, likewise took to YouTube to defend her assistant’s actions. The upshot of the video is that the prosecutor had no choice…if Jenny had not shown up for the continuation of the trial, the rapist would have walked. And in this case, Anderson forcefully asserts, the District’s Attorney’s office couldn’t make their conviction omelet without breaking some eggs…and if the broken egg had already been raped, tough luck.


Scott helpfully presented some alternatives to Harris County’s course of action, some of which were tongue in cheek. The more practical ones included:

  1. Putting Jenny up in a motel;
  2. Contacting the mental hospital she was housed at to extend her stay till the trial;
  3. Finding another mental health facility to put her up till the trial;
  4. If there really was no alternative to jail, making sure the jailors knew she was a special case (both by virtue of her status and her mental state) and not to be treated like the usual inmate.

To this, I would add:

  1. A GPS tether: basically an ankle bracelet that would keep the county informed of Jenny’s whereabouts 24 hours a day. So, when trial rolled around and she was nowhere to be found, the police could locate her almost immediately and bring her to court, willingly or not.

You might be saying to yourself, “Self, this Noel and Scott are just Monday morning quarterbacking. The prosecutor had to make a split-second decision when faced with the potential implosion of his case.” If so, you’ve been watching too many statements from police union officials. There was nothing split-second about it. Jenny was in the hospital for 10 days before she went to jail, and soon as she was to be released, the D.A. was kind enough to provide transportation from the hospital check out to the jail sally port. There was plenty of time to figure a less oppressive alternative.

That said, the horror of the details of what happened to Jenny are past, subject only to the lawsuit currently filed on her behalf. At any rate, this is (thankfully) a rare situation, though one wonders where the internet outrage outcry is.

You think the short sentence of Brock Turner is going to have a “chilling effect” on the reporting of rapes to the police? In Houston, hard as it to believe, when deciding whether or not to report a rape, a victim has to weigh the possibility of being locked up herself. Sure enough, Anderson or her apologists might object, Jenny got locked up for different reasons than the rapist. But the reason doesn’t make any difference to the poor schlub who’s locked in a cage and trying not to drop the soap.

In addition to the offense against basic human decency, there’s the practical aspect of it. If the defense attorney had two brain cells to rub together, her cross exam would have opened like this:

  1. Jenny, why are you in orange?
  2. How long have you been locked up?
  3. Where were you before you were in jail?
  4. Who put you there?
  5. When do you get out?
  6. Wait, you don’t get out until you testify?[1]
  7. Did you discuss your testimony with anyone from the DA’s office today?

It didn’t matter in the end, as her rapist was convicted, but you can bet there’s an appellate attorney somewhere in Texas researching this very issue as we speak.

Finally, there’s the class angle. Jenny was mentally ill and homeless, and it appears that her family did not have a great deal in terms of financial resources (Jenny was being held on a $10,000 bond, which means she would have had to pay $1000 dollars to a bondsman to get out of jail, which her mother was unwilling or unable to pay.[2]) Funny, isn’t it, how the terrible tragedies that befall victims of law enforcement happen to poor people?

The shooting of Akai Gurley happened at a public housing project in Brooklyn, not in Scarsdale. The shooting of Michael Brown happened in Ferguson, not Chesterfield. Same goes for Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. Does anyone really think that Jenny would have been treated this way, regardless of what she said after her breakdown, if she had been an upper-middle class woman whose family had the money and social capital to look out for her?

The worst part of this is that Devon Anderson, like her assistant, is still incapable of seeing Jenny as a human being. She’s just another piece of the puzzle, unworthy of the most basic efforts to protect her sanity and dignity, in the quest for a conviction.

[1] That probably would have drawn an objection, but if the judge shut down the line of questioning it would present an excellent issue for appeal.

[2] Jenny’s lawsuit claims that her mother was discouraged from doing so by Assistant District Attorney in charge of the case.

11 Comments on this post.

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  • JoAnne Musick
    25 July 2016 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Don’t know if you had a chance to see it, Devon finally took a meeting with Lisa Falkenburg at the Houston Chronicle and did a softer sell. (Published Sunday) But still stands by her office decisions though now she says she only found out about it late in the process. Still more excuses. Oh and an admission Jenny wasn’t homeless after all. Just mentally ill.

    • shg
      25 July 2016 at 10:51 am - Reply

      The bell rung cannot be unrung. Is Devon trying to conclusively prove she lied in the video? There is no other walk back from that ledge.

  • Chris
    25 July 2016 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    The Writ of Attachment is the only tool you have to compel witnesses. The writ does not give the State the authority to order a 3rd party treatment provider to hold someone on the basis of a court schedule. Mental health providers have their standards and practices for involuntary commitment, if they are even that type of facility.

    Likewise putting someone in a hotel does not ensure their appearance.

    And that is the problem. Medical providers and domestic violence shelters are not necessarily going to be fully cooperative. They do their thing, courts do their thing.

    The lawsuit should be dismissed immediately.

    • Noel Erinjeri
      25 July 2016 at 3:21 pm - Reply

      Is there any excuse you won’t make on behalf of law enforcement? There’s no such thing as an anticipatory body attachment.

      • Chris
        25 July 2016 at 3:48 pm - Reply

        It’s not an excuse it is a reality. There is no writ to turn mental health providers or hotel operators into our jailers. If we need additional laws and resources to deal with mental health cases then we need to get those in place. Until then, what we have is what we have.

        In this case the judge reasonably feels it was appropriate that the writ issue, based on her behavior in court and her definitive statement she would not return to court. IOW, re-scheduling the case and waiting for her not to show up would have likely resulting in additional pre-trial detention for the accused who was innocent until proven guilty (if he hadn’t yet made bond) etc., or other harms to the interests of justice that we’d have to consider in balancing the harms to her.

    • Rojas
      25 July 2016 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Referring to the complaint:

      “Texas state law authorizes a judge, upon request by a party, to issue an “attachment” order and/or a “witness bond” to hold a material witness in custody without bail, or release her subject to posting bail, respectively. An attachment order was unauthorized because [Jenny] was not subpoenaed as a material witness and was not a resident of Harris County. See Arts. 24.12 and 24.14, Tex. Cd. Crim. Proc. Nor could [Jenny] be held on a witness bond, since the applicable statute prohibits jailing witnesses who are, as [Jenny] was, financially unable to post bond. See Art. 24.24, Tex. Cd. Crim. Proc. “

      • Chris
        25 July 2016 at 4:11 pm - Reply

        That’s an important fact, if true. If the DA’s office did not properly serve her a subpoena then my view of the case is starting to change. Since you normally should have to actually violate the subpoena prior to a writ being issued.

        • Rojas
          25 July 2016 at 4:32 pm - Reply

          Also note the statute prohibits jailing those who are indigent.

          Art. 24.24. BAIL FOR WITNESS. Witnesses on behalf of the State or defendant may, at the request of either party, be required to enter into bail in an amount to be fixed by the court to appear and testify in a criminal action; but if it shall appear to the court that any witness is unable to give security upon such bail, he shall be released without security.

          • Chris
            25 July 2016 at 4:51 pm -

            no prohibition for jailing on a writ of attachment, no requirement for the judge to even set a bail for a writ

  • rojas
    25 July 2016 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Chris

    Witness bonds and Writs of attachment are just like peas and carrots.
    Not the same.

  • Fault Lines Friday Fail
    5 August 2016 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    […] the Fault Lines contributors.  Last week’s “winner” by an absolute blowout was Harris County DA Devon Anderson for jailing a rape victim to ensure her testimony.  Check out this week’s top 5 fails and then […]