This Is a Very Weird and Suspect Choice

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September 26, 2018 10:39 am
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As I mentioned last night, there are some real questions worth asking about the political views of Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor chosen by Judiciary Committee Republicans to do their questioning of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. But judged entirely on its own, this is a truly bizarre decision, quite apart from all the obvious optics about hiring an outside person to avoid having the Committee Republican men question an alleged victim of sexual assault.

Mitchell is a prosecutor who specializes in child sexual abuse cases. Those cases require all sorts of specific knowledge and experience. That experience is at best ill-suited to this assignment. Blasey Ford is a fifty-something college professor. And in any case, this isn’t a trial.

One of interviews I read of Mitchell’s had her discussing how you test memory for child victims to secure them in time in such a way to be viable at trial. That practice actually generated a lot of controversy in this case which you can read about here, though it certainly makes sense in general for someone who has to bring criminal cases and secure convictions. But again, this isn’t prepping a witness to see how her account would hold up in a criminal prosecution. This is an adult who says something happened to her when she was 15 years old.

Other than finding a woman to handle the questioning, it’s not completely clear to me what the Majority thinks they’re doing here. Most plausibly it is simply an attempt to create a narrow evidentiary focus and use standards that may make sense for a criminal trial.

Here’s a passage in a local alt-weekly (Phoenix New Times) article about that earlier case. Notably, it involves a case of an adult recalling incidents from his childhood.

Specific memories and timing — “time anchors” — are important in proving old sex crimes, Rachel Mitchell, sex crimes bureau chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, tells New Times, because the age of the victim at the time of abuse can vastly alter sentencing guidelines.

“It’s not uncommon for victims, especially teenage male victims, to tell you, ‘I was this age when it happened,'” she says. “Then, when you get ‘time anchors’ from them, you find out they were actually older. It’s a normal thing to do where you have a coping mechanism [in which] they imagine that they were younger, because, ‘If I were older I wouldn’t have let it happen.’ I think that’s probably a little bit of what you’ve got going on here.”

Kevin, however, maintains that the abuse began when he was as young as 6 and went on throughout his teenage years. He estimates that Nelson sexually abused him on at least 30 occasions.

“This happened for 10 years — 10 whole years! — and [prosecutors] keep saying, ‘It only happened once when he was 14.’ This is so untrue,” Kevin’s wife says. “The county attorneys would not listen to us.”

The Majority has approached this whole question with what I think we can only call maximal bad faith. So I really don’t know what their angle is or why they picked Mitchell. But even as bizarre and, I would argue, inappropriate a choice as this is, I’m not sure it will come off well. Blasey Ford isn’t a child and she’s not an unsophisticated person. She’s a respected psychology professor. It’s a weird choice and I’m not sure it will work to the Majority’s benefit.

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