Lawyers face uphill evidence battlePosted: Saturday August 02, 2003 12:26 AM
Updated: Saturday August 02, 2003 12:26 AM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant's lawyers would have a tough time presenting evidence that his accuser had mental problems months before her encounter with the NBA star, legal experts say.
"The question is whether any of this is relevant to her state of mind on the night in question," said Florida attorney Roy Black, who won acquittal for William Kennedy Smith in a 1991 rape trial.
"If she had a disorder on that day that affected her perceptions or her emotional state, that could be relevant."
Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson said defense attorneys could argue for admissibility of mental health evidence but would have trouble convincing a judge.
"If it was just an isolated event, it's irrelevant," she said. "But if it's indicative of an ongoing problem where she has trouble perceiving things, where she makes things up, it would go to the credibility of the witness.
"They have an uphill battle, but you can construct an argument for admissibility."
Bryant, an All-Star guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, was charged with felony sexual assault on the 19-year-old woman. He said he had consensual sex with her June 30 at an exclusive spa where he was staying when he came to Colorado for knee surgery.
Bryant has posted a $25,000 bond and is to return to Colorado on Aug. 6 for an initial court appearance where he will be advised of the charge against him and of his rights.
The woman was taken to a medical center in February after police determined she was a danger to herself, University of Northern Colorado police chief Terry Urista said. In addition, a former roommate said the woman tried to kill herself at school this winter and again in May by trying to overdose on sleeping pills. Documents in the case have been sealed, and so little is known about the evidence that it's impossible to predict what will happen in court.
Los Angeles attorney Leonard Levine, who has defended many rape cases, said a charge against a celebrity like Bryant is uniquely problematic.
"I'm not sure victims, even when forewarned, are aware of the ramifications when you accuse a celebrity," Levine said. "It will be an ordeal for both sides." He said the prosecution will fight to keep out of the trial any evidence that might damage the woman's credibility.
"If the facts are true, there's nothing you can do but keep them out of court as irrelevant," Levine said. "She could argue, 'What does this have to do with my being raped?"'
Black said the law is clear on one thing -- the woman's prior sexual history is off limits as evidence "unless she previously had sex with Kobe Bryant, which does not seem to be the case."
He said defense lawyers will probably explore whether anti-depressant medication was prescribed for the woman when she was taken to the hospital and what treatment she received subsequently.
Black said a key question would be: "If she had a problem, was she cured?"
Black, who said he has represented other NBA players in lower-profile cases settled without trial, said Bryant's case is likely to go to trial.
"Once the accusation is brought to the police it's almost impossible to settle it," he said. "If he pleads guilty he loses endorsements and his popularity as a player." If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.
Levenson said that Bryant's future may hinge on how carefully the prosecution investigated the case before filing the charge.
"He's got to hope that the prosecution missed something," she said. "Absent something extraordinary, he's headed for trial."