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Parker Gilbert: A Reasonable Doubt?

Trial Commentary: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

The jury’s task in Parker Gilbert’s ongoing trial on the charge of rape is to determine if he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden of proof is a high one — far higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard in the College’s newly proposed sexual assault rules. There is no hard and fast way to define reasonable doubt; think of the difference between these two thresholds of proof as the difference between getting 51% and 95% on a test. The criminal law mandates such a high standard as a filter to ensure that innocent defendants do not go to jail; the law has always asserted that it is better that one hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man is incarcerated.

At trial yesterday, the prosecution continued to present witnesses who, under cross-examination by Gilbert’s attorneys, injected uncertainty into the proceeding. Most prominent was the complainant’s seemingly unbiased roommate, who had not been drinking on the evening in question, and who was studying in the next room. She testified, according to both the Valley News and The D, that she heard whispering followed by heavy breathing in the complainant’s room, and she stated that she did not hear any loud noises, crying, or expressions of pain from the adjoining space. She did hear her roommate say “don’t push me.” Notably the roommate said nothing about the uninterrupted stream of abusive language that the complainant previously stated Gilbert had uttered to her in the course of their lengthy sexual interaction.

At this point in the trial, the jury must be feeling a great deal of confusion as to the events of the night in question, if not outright disbelief regarding the complainant’s depiction of what occurred. It is well possible that the complainant is telling the truth and her roommate is lying about what she heard, but how can a jury possibly believe one person over another beyond a reasonable doubt?

And, as I mentioned yesterday, all this has taken place before the defense has put forward its own version of events.

Bornstein.jpgAddendum: The case against Parker Gilbert could end and Gilbert could be acquitted after the State has finished presenting its case, if the defense files and Judge Peter Bornstein (right) grants a motion for directed verdict on all the charges. The American Bar Association defines a directed verdict in criminal proceedings as follows:

At the conclusion of the … government’s evidence, the lawyer will announce that the … government rests. Then, when the jury leaves the courtroom, … in a criminal trial, the defendant’s lawyer can ask for a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that the government has failed to prove its case.


In effect … the lawyer asks the judge to direct a verdict for the defendant. The judge will either grant or deny the motion. If it is granted, the case is over and the defendant wins. If the motion is denied, as it usually is, the defense is given the opportunity to present its evidence.

Given the range of doubt-creating evidence that the prosecution’s own witnesses have put forward, the judge could well rule that no reasonable jury could find against Gilbert. If he does so, the prosecution would have no right of appeal, just as if the jury itself had pronounced Gilbert not guilty.

Addendum: The Valley News and The D have not reported the name of the complainant, but the Valley News has chosen to name the various other witnesses, students among them, who have testified in the case. If Gilbert is acquitted, I wonder if either paper will identify the complainant.

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