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The Procedure (6/8)


The police investigation

© Yves Lambert

Informed of your complaint, the district attorney orders a police investigation.

During this investigation, you will be summoned repeatedly to answer all questions meant to clarify the circumstances of the rape.

You will be asked to try and identify the attacker; if he is known, you will be asked to identify him officially in a line-up. If he denies the accusation, the person in charge of the investigation can decide on a confrontation: you can refuse this and request that it take place in front of the examining magistrate.

IIf the attacker was unknown to you and if there are no specific clues to help identify him, this period of the investigation can be fairly long.

The results of the investigation are given to the district attorney. He decides either:

  • To dismiss the case when the attacker has not been found or if he considers there is insufficient evidence. You will not be automatically informed. It is up to you to contact the penal order office (bureau d'ordre pénal) of the Circuit Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) in the jurisdiction where the attacker was picked up or where the complaint was filed.
  • or to give your case to an examining magistrate to examine the file. The examining magistrate will summons you.
  • or to send it directly to criminal court.
  • The examination

    The examination period can be long and painful; an attorney can accompany you if you have filed civil charges.

    The examining magistrate

    The grand jury

    •  He will be designated by the President of the Tribunal and will summons you to the local courthouse (Palais de Justice) where the attack took place. He has your complaint and the elements of the police investigation as well as the statements made by the accused and his attorney.
    •  He has total authority to gather all useful information. He looks to establish proof to indict the attacker. Don't forget to give him all the elements that prove it was non-consensual.
    •  He will look for any contradictions in your story in order to make his decision.
    •  Point out any threats or pressure that the attacker or the attacker's circle made on you: that is another penal offense.
    •  If you waited to file a complaint, he can ask you for your reasons and you may be considered less credible.
    •  He can order :
      • a character investigation: you can't prevent this, even though rape is the only case where this is done concerning the victim. This investigation is done without your consent by the police or the sheriff's office. They will question your family, friends, neighbors, landlord, employer, work colleagues, …
      • a confrontation with the attacker who will appear with his attorney. You can also appear with your attorney if you have filed civil charges.
      • a reconstitution of the facts in certain exceptional cases.
      • transportation to the site.
      • a medical or gynecological examination (or several, including at the request of the opposing party). Taking place several months after the fact, it can be used to evaluate the damage caused by the rape. It is a questionable ordeal, useless in the absence of physical scars. It proves nothing about it being non-consensual. Get advice from your attorney.
      • a psychiatric examination is too often imposed on women rape victims to evaluate their credibility. It is unfortunately the sign that a woman's word is often ignored when she affirms that she said "no." This expertise, although questionable, does allow an evaluation of the eventual mental and emotional scars. Get advice from your attorney.

    The grand jury (chambre d'accusation) has the same decisional powers as the examining magistrate. It is before them that one files an appeal in the case of dismissal or of dequalification. It reviews the files concerning the crime that the examining magistrate gives them. It can either:

    • dismiss the case
    • dequalify it by sending it to criminal court
    • send it to the Assizes.

    The judgment

    • The judgement rests on the sincere conviction of the District Court jury or the three judges in criminal court.
    • You can request a closed court once the President exposes the names of the parties. The public will be banned from the courtroom until the end of the arguments.Before the district court, a closed court proceeding is law when the victim has filed a civil claim. In criminal court, the closed court is subject to the decision of the Tribunal which can refuse it.
    • If there exists a doubt about the guilt of the defendant, he will be acquitted in the district court or the charges will be dismissed in Criminal Court.
    • You can appeal a judgement in criminal or district court ; you have 10 days from the date of the deliberation (criminal) or the judgment (district). If necessary, you can then request an appeal in Appeals court but in this case, the facts are not re-examined: the Appeals Court just assures that the law was properly applied and that procedure was respected.
    • In criminal court, the judgment will be pronounced at a later audience to which you will be summoned. In district court, the judgment will be pronounced the same day.

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    •  Know however that the role of this magistrate is not to judge the affair but :
      • To examine "the burden and the defense", that is to say de look for all the elements which accuse or excuse accused person
      • To bring charges against the aggressor
      • To incarcerate or to grant provisional liberty

    The courtroom of the district court

    •  Aside from the President, present in the courtroom are:
      • Assessors: judges that assist the President of the Assizes court.
      • The general attorney: he is designated by the district attorney to read the charges against the accused in the name of society by requesting application of the law.
      • The Defense attorneys: they assure the defense of the accused person.
      • The Prosecuting attorney: through her attorney, the victim pleads and demands justice for the prejudice suffered. If the victim hasn't filed a civil complaint, she will be heard only as a simple witness.
      • The clerk: he is responsible for administrative tasks (writing up the minutes of the hearing, drafting judgments, verification of judiciary expenses).
      • The bailiff: he is in charge of spectator services. He announces the entrance of the judge, the beginning of the procedure and introduces the witnesses.
      • The bar: the witness box.
      • The jury: nine randomly selected persons judge in the name of the French people. After the hearing, gathered in the presence of the President and of his assessors, they deliberate in secret. They vote by secret ballot on the guilt of the accused (a majority of at least eight votes). The decision taken by the Assizes court is called a warrant (arrêt).
      • The press and the public: they are allowed in the courtroom, except in the case of closed-door proceedings, decided by the President at the request of the Attorney General or the victim's attorney, or the victim herself.

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    • At the end of the examination period which can be long and after having submitted his file to the Public Prosecutor's Office, the examining judge can :
      • either decides for dismissal if he considers that there is no reason to pursue (insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges). You can appeal this decision before the Grand Jury.
      • or transfer the case to the Criminal Court (dequalification in "sexual aggressions " or "assault and battery"). The examining judge may ask your opinion. It's a difficult assessment. By "dequalifying", the length and slowness of the procedure is reduced but the rape is considered as a misdemeanor and not a felony or even worse, it is sometimes reduced to a simple charge of "aggravated assault ". Ask your attorney or rape crisis association for advice.
      • or send the case to the Grand Jury. This is the rule when it concerns a crime which should be judged before a district court.

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