Rape Victim Refuses to Comply with Subpoena for Search Engine Records
Advocates have fought and come a long way for victim’s rights and protection against exploitation of their lives during criminal proceedings. This victim decided enough was enough when she was subpoenaed to provide personal information that she felt was an invasion of her privacy. After hearing this survivor’s story, it’s obvious that we still have a lot of work to do.
Dr. Thomas Bray was sentenced to 25 years in prison for brutally raping Jennifer Bennett of Bend, Oregon. The conviction came after an eight-day trial and Bray’s defense attorney attempting to obtain Bennett’s search engine records to prove she Googled the definition of rape before she made a report.
Over a five hour period, Dr. Bray beat, raped, and strangled Bennett to the point she lost consciousness. She suffered from substantial, visible injuries, including petechiae (internal bleeding that can be caused by strangulation). When Bennett was finally released and able to return home, she decided to report the assault, but did not realize what she was about to face. Bray’s attorney, Stephen Houze, subpoenaed Bennett’s computer, search engine records, and journals: she refused to provide them. Judge Stephen Tiktin did not enforce the subpoena when Bennet showed up for court, refusing to provide such information. However, both Tiktin and Judge A. Michael ordered the District Attorney’s Office to obtain Bennett’s search history from Google. Prosecutors also refused to provide such documentation. The judge’s orders drew scrutiny from victim advocates who noted that this practice was rare nationwide and to order such, would discourage other victims from reporting. The order was never enforced and Bennett’s search engine history was never provided to the defense.
Last Friday, in addition to sentencing Bray to 25 years in prison, Judge Tiktin also ordered him to a pay a $112,000 fine, $50,000 of which will go to Bennett. While the judge’s decision not to uphold the subpoenas, and the final verdict, were positive outcomes, victim advocates and legal experts warn that this type of defense strategy may become more popular and that more work needs to be done to develop laws regarding information privacy and victim rights.