Wanetta Gibson, Elizabeth Paige Coast, Chaneya Kelly, Cassandra Kennedy and the Alkon Formula: How Should We Punish False Rape Victims?

Coast: How much compassion does she deserve?

Coast: How much compassion does she deserve?

Commenting on the case of Elizabeth Paige Coast, a Virginia woman who finally came forward last year to confess that in 2008 she had falsely accused Johnathan C. Montgomery, a former neighbor, of raping her in 2000 when she was 10 years old and he was 14, advice columnist and blogger Amy Alkorn proposes this sentencing formula:

“I feel strongly that those who falsely accuse someone of rape should spend the amount of time incarcerated that the person they falsely accused would have.”

Coast’s victim was convicted of rape and  spent four years in jail as a result of her lies. As for Coast, she was recently sentenced by Hampton Circuit Court Judge Bonnie L. Jones to only two months in jail, plus being required to pay Montgomery $90,000 in restitution for de-railing his life. The judge suspended the rest of a five-year sentence, and is allowing Coast to serve the remainder on weekends so not to unduly disrupt her life.

Coast’s lawyer had argued any jailing would send the wrong message to others who lie about false rapes. The prosecutor, agreeing with Alkon, asked for a 10-year sentence with six years suspended so she would serve the same length of time as Montgomery. It seems the judge agreed with the defense more than Alkon. I think Alkon is closer to the mark, but if we make the punishment for recanting rape accusers too severe, it is probably going to mean that some in Coast’s position will choose to let their victim rot and just live with a guilty conscience.

Alkon’s formula certainly would be ideal in the case of the false accuser of the Duke lacrosse team, Crystal Gale Mangum. She wasn’t charged at all, in part because a George Zimmerman-like narrative had developed around the accused (white) Duke players, and many in the community regarded Mangum as a victim of racism, which was one reason the prosecution of the players got as far as it did. Cowardly authorities just dropped the charges, and let Mangum go on to her next victim. Tawana Brawley was never tried, for similar reasons. Alkon’s  approach would also seem to be appropriate for Wanetta Gibson, the awful woman who sent innocent high school football star Brian Banks to prison for five years for a rape he didn’t commit, collected $750,000 by continuing her lie in a lawsuit against the high school where she and Banks were both students, and sought forgiveness from him in prison while refusing to exonerate him to prosecutors because she didn’t want to give back the money. She is also unpunished, because prosecutors felt it would “send the wrong message.”

Perhaps that message can be too harsh, however. Would it be appropriate, for example, in the case of Chaneya Kelly, whose mother forced her to testify that her father raped her when she was 9? Before you say “of course not,” note that she is now 24, and only this year has her recanting of her accusation beginning the process of freeing her father, who had been sent to prison on a 20-40 year sentence. That is only because, however, prosecutors rejected her first attempt to recant, six months after he was imprisoned, when she was 10.

It is clear, I think, that the false accuser’s age when the accusation was first made, the factor of compulsion by threats or the commands of adults with power over the accuser, and the time between the accusation and the admission of perjury should be mitigating factors in charging and sentencing. Prosecutorial misconduct should also be a mitigating factor, as in this terrible case, where the accuser almost immediately admitted her lie, and prosecutors went after the falsely accused anyway. Obviously, recanting voluntarily should reduce the punishment, but the amount of time the victim remains in prison while she screws up her courage should count against her, as with Cassandra Kennedy, who waited 9 years after sending her father to jail and her 23rd birthday to finally conclude that “It’s not OK to sit and be locked in this horrible place for something you didn’t do. It’s just not right!”

As is usually the case with mandatory sentencing formulas, Amy Alkon’s will sometimes be unjustly severe, and other times not be nearly harsh enough. (I think justice requires that Wanetta Gibson, for example, be sentenced to prison for 25 to life.) False rape accusations come in too many varieties with too many material factors; for example, should a daughter accusing her father of rape be punished more severely than when the victim of the false accusation is a non-family member, or a stranger?  How should punishment allow for the vagueries of  moral luck: a false accusation that prosecutor refuse to prosecute is just as wrong as one that a prosecutor runs with. Should an attempt to send someone to jail for a rape he didn’t commit be punished as harshly as one that works? I think that would be a justifiable formula. It certainly sends the right message, which is this:

Intentionally making a false accusation that someone raped you is, short of murder, one of the cruelest and most wrongful acts someone can inflict on another. It is a terrible crime. The woman who does it will be prosecuted for a crime, no matter when and how her lie is discovered, and the punishment will reflect the seriousness of that crime, as well as the intended harm and actual harm to the victim.

That’s my formula.

By this standard, I’m with Alkon. Elizabeth Page Coast got off easy.


Spark and Pointer: Lianne Best

Sources: NBC News,  Advice Goddess Blog, Jonathan Turley, Times Dispatch

54 thoughts on “Wanetta Gibson, Elizabeth Paige Coast, Chaneya Kelly, Cassandra Kennedy and the Alkon Formula: How Should We Punish False Rape Victims?

  1. How typical is it for prosecutors to prosecute these types of cases with the only evidence being the woman saying that the man committed this act? I’m not an attorney but shouldn’t there be more than a “he said/she said” component to these cases?

    • At least from what I’ve seen, it’s far too possible for the “he said” component never to come into it. That’s particularly true if the to parties have, in fact, had sex- young men in college are taught that if a woman changes her mind mid-coitus it can still be considered rape, and if she never vocalizes that mind change you might still be a rapist anyway because she was too intimidated to tell you no. I don’t know how far that argument would go in court, but it is reflective of the cultural view being created.

  2. Without further meditation on this post, I will say this:

    The proposal to incarcerate false accusers for the same period of time as would be the punishment of their falsely accused “rapists”, would inevitably require informing every rape accuser of this possibility, therefore discouraging false accusers of ever coming clean.

    • You (and Jack) aren’t wrong… but damn does it make me feel icky. Oh, you ruined someone’s life, possibly irrevocably? Well you don’t get to go out on the weekends for a while, young lady!

      • Uh-oh, there I went AGAIN! It isn’t Elizabeth Paige Coast’s fault, nor is it the photographer’s fault. For some reason, I just can’t help seeing “the monster” everywhere I look. (Maybe I have a fear of clowns, after all. Maybe it’s because “the monster’s” crimes were so horrific.) Once again, I thought I was looking at yet another photo of John Wayne Gacy, this time in drag…

  3. I was with the public defender’s office that began the long road to exoneration for Jonathan Montgomery. Despite the fact that a Circuit Court judge ordered him released, the Department of Corrections, backed by the Attorney General’s office, opposed his release. If the governor had not granted him a conditional pardon (which, by the way, requires him to register as a sex offender until his petition of actual innocence is finally heard and presumably granted by the Court of Appeals), Montgomery would still be imprisoned today. All of that said, Montgomery stated that he did not think Coast should get any time. I don’t know if that would make him an ethics hero, but I do think it an object lesson in forgiveness.

  4. Convince me this wouldn’t devolve into a nightmare scenario where rape victims are criminally liable whenever their rapist is found, for ANY reason, not guilty. Your proposal wouldn’t prevent rape (quite the opposite, it would encourage it), though it sure as hell would clear the docket, since no accuser would ever dare approach a judge without a 100% certainty of conviction.

      • If – IF – this devolutionary spiral I described were to take place, what victim would ever bring a rapist to trial unless there was 100% certainty of conviction?
        Reminds me of Deuteronomy 22:23-24.

    • Convince me this wouldn’t devolve into a nightmare scenario where rape victims are criminally liable whenever their rapist is found, for ANY reason, not guilty.

      Do these “nightmare scenarios include the “victim” recanting and admitting to having lied? No?

      Then it wouldn’t happen, because we are very specifically talking about wrongful convictions that occur because of outright lies by the accuser.

      Your proposal wouldn’t prevent rape (quite the opposite, it would encourage it), though it sure as hell would clear the docket, since no accuser would ever dare approach a judge without a 100% certainty of conviction.

      You’re a special kind of moron, aren’t you?

      Nothing will prevent rape. Ever. The fact that you think the only good policy is one that does so speaks to a special brand of stupid that, God willing, should be painful.

      If you falsely accuse (and note please, you cretinous buffoon, the word “falsely”) someone, and you get them convicted, then you should be punished harshly as an example to others.

      If I thought we could get away with it, I would recommend the use of gibbets.

      • In one sentence you say laws won’t deter crime (or did you just mean rape?), and in the next you advocate strict laws to deter crime… well done. Either laws prevent crime or they don’t. Pick one.

        Yes, I can read, I know that Jack is specifically targeting false rape accusations that result in conviction, and in that case, brace yourself, I agree with him, and you, that this is baaaaad.

        I was wondering if this could lead to a scenario where accusers, regardless of the truth of their allegations, could be criminally liable when their alleged rapist doesn’t get convicted.

        Just so there’s no confusion on the matter, I think that would be even worse. And when you’re done foaming at the mouth, you might even agree.

    • Convince me this wouldn’t devolve into a nightmare scenario where rape victims are criminally liable whenever their rapist is found, for ANY reason, not guilty.

      And why would that be a problem? Are not persons strictly liable for the effects of their conduct under criminal law? Jack Marshall explains what strict liability is .

      Negligence will be defined as “if the wrong person gets a hold of the gun or guns, the owner is negligent, no matter what measures he or she took to prevent it”—that is, strict liability.

      That is, in fact and truth, the law.

    • Why would it? Falsely reporting other crimes is a crime; nobody has been punished for mistaken identification. We are talking about knowing, intentional, false accusations. On the other hand, a reckless, false accusation is currently subject to civil suit. What’s the nightmare scenario?

    • no accuser would ever dare approach a judge without a 100% certainty of conviction.

      Why do you say that? IANAL but it seems obvious to me that failure to convict the accused rapist wouldn’t automatically mean conviction for the accuser. There would be many such cases where neither the rape nor the lack of rape could be proved with anything close to certainty.

  5. There will always be mitigating circumstances like age etc. but I think the idea of not holding someone accountable for an insidious lie which takes away the life and freedom of an innocent person IN HOPE that others may come forward and confess their lies sets a terrible precedence. And why are some in the courts advocating such a stance in the first place? Is the legal system so screwed up that we have to give free passes to those who falsely accuse someone and got away with it in hopes that the person will come forward to set the record straight? People like Wanetta Gibson? Please. The record should have been straight before anyone went to prison.

    • There will always be mitigating circumstances like age etc. but I think the idea of not holding someone accountable for an insidious lie which takes away the life and freedom of an innocent person IN HOPE that others may come forward and confess their lies sets a terrible precedence. And why are some in the courts advocating such a stance in the first place?

      Should we not grant amnesty to kidnappers then in exchange for themreleasing their victims? After all, if wee impose harsh sentences on kidnappers, they would have incentives to keep them locked up forever, or even murder them.

  6. I think that, if you falsely accuse someone of ANY crime and then later recant, you should be sentenced to a term in prison of no less than what your victim was sentenced to, and you should have to serve the exact same amount of time that your victim did, with the rest as a suspended sentence.

    You accuse someone, and they get sent away for 10 years, and you recant and they get out after two? Then you serve two years, and you live under the watchful eye of the state for eight more. Come forward after 6 months? You stay in jail for 6 months (and none of this bullshit weekend crap – you go for 180 days solid) and get 9.5 years probation.

    And if it comes to light that you lied and got someone sent to prison but you refuse to help get the person out of jail? You go for the full term – no parole, no probation, no time-off for good behavior. You go sit and fucking rot.

    If you weren’t willing to fix your fuck-up, you get to enjoy what they would have, all the way.

  7. False accusers of any crime should be treated harshly. Utilizing the accused punishment as a sentencing guide is fair. If there were contributing factors that drove the false accusation then the sentence can be reduced from that point. Too often these cases do come down to he said/she said and yet convictions are common. It is terrible if any rapist goes free but our justice principal is innocent until proven guilty, these cases are emotional and all too often the emotions without facts drive the ruling. If an accuser goes in front of a jury and makes up a story and acts emotional enough to convince those sitting on the jury then there should be consequences to such antisocial and evil behavior.

    • The grievance industry is on the side of the women, in this case. I know those who complain when cases like this get ANY press, because it makes it sound like women falsely report rapes, so they are less likely to report actual rapes because people might think they are lying.

  8. An interesting (and highly triggering) piece by someone who gets counted among the “false rape accusation” statistics: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/08/23/i-am-a-false-rape-allegation-statistic/

    As for AblativeMeatshield’s understanding that an accused rapist starts out at a disadvantage … I can only state that I know of no one who has ever gone through being rapes and then reporting it has ever felt that they had an advantageous position during the process. NOT believing the accuser is the default position, in my experience and that of the victims (male and female both) I’ve worked with.

    • Wendy: wouldn’t you agree that rape allegations should be given no more nor less assumed credibility as any other complaints of criminal conduct? I assume you would. The major area where the accused is at a disadvantage in in the reporting of the incident. The practice of withholding the name of the alleged victim while reporting the name of the accused can’t be defended on justice or fairness grounds. Withhold both, or report both.

      • Yes, I would certainly agree that in an ideal world, reporting a rape would be viewed with exactly the same credibility as reporting a theft or a keying of a car or any other crime. Having the experience of reporting all those crimes, however, I’m saying that the assumption that a person reporting a rape has any sort of advantage during that reporting is baffling.

        I’m all for working to change our culture such that being named as someone who has reported a rape carries the same lack-of-stigma as being named as someone who has reported a theft. We’re not there, yet.

          • The argument for it being sexist assumes that the accused is male and the accuser is female. As a woman accused of raping a man would have her name revealed while his was withheld, I don’t think the sexist argument holds much water.

            • It’s sexist paternalism. If men were always the rape accusers, I doubt the same policy would be in place. It duplicates the newspapers’ policies regarding children. I think it’s an insult to women.

  9. I am making this post before reading all of the other comments so please bear with me if I say something that is repeated.

    I was once the victim of a false accusation of sexual assualt. You can read the short story of it here: http://falselyaccused.lj4a.com/2011/01/16/my-story-the-short-short-version/

    I was very fortunate in the fact that it never went to trial. Obviously her story was bogus. However, this does not mean that there was a “no harm, no foul”. There was absolutely damage done. To this day I have problems that stem from it. For example, if someone misrepresents something that I say and does so maliciously I have a very hard time letting that go. It is hard for me to see a false representation of what I say just sitting out there left unresponded to. I only recently realized that perhaps the reason I am like that is because of the false accusation made against me back then. I was terrified that I might go to jail over a lie. It impacts my social interactions. And every time I hear a story of a false accusor (especially one going free) it brings back the stinging pains I felt half a life ago.

    That being said, I am concerned that some people who look at the issues of false accusations of rape give the subject too much weight. Yes they happen. Yes they are bad. Yes I wish they would be punished. But some of the people out there who advocate for better handling of false accusations in our system wish to suggest that the frequency of false accusations of rape is the same as those of actual rape cases. They cite horrifically wrong studies from small towns and present them as correct. And they suggest horrific things like that we should use jury nullification and aquit all rapists until false accusations are dealth with properly. Despite the personal pain I have suffered, I do not want to see that happen.

    Also, I do not want to see any action taken to deal with false accusations of rape to have a chilling effect on true accusations of rape. We already live in a society where people are not likely to go seek out a rape kit and call the police after being sexually violated. I don’t want any actions taken to make things right with the falsely accused to make it less likely that rape victims (male or female) will come forward and seek justice against their attackers.

    We also need to deal with the realities of our justice system. When we say false accusation of rape we do not mean a rape with no guilty verdict. Criminally it should have to be proven that the person maliciously lied about being the victim of an assault. Recantations may be used as evidence that one is guilty of a false accusation but it doesn’t prove it in and of itself. Some victims of rape just pull back from the system because of the horrific way rape victims are treated by the system. No person making a police report about a sexual assault should be asked if at any time she “enjoyed it” (as what happened to a former girlfriend of a friend of mine).

    As to my opinion on what should happen to people who falsely accuse others of rape? Well, in my days where I was much angrier about this and less objective I did subscribe to the idea of an eye for an eye. That the punishment for making a false accusation of any crime should have the same punishment as the person accused of a crime could have gotten. However, as I have mellowed a bit about this I realize that there are many different circumstances that could be dealt with and that each case needs to be handled on a case by case basis. A girl at 10 making a false accusation is not the same as a high school aged girl being prodded on by her mother to make the accusation and neither of those two are the same as a full grown woman flat out lying about being raped. So in order for the law to be adequate in handing false accusations it would need to be able to have flexibility. (And it seems that in this case the guy was convicted when she was 18… so yes, she should have known better)

    Something of an irony, my false accuser is now working for our military as a rape councelor. How amazingly hypocritical of her.

  10. I think that the person imprisoned (in my case my father) should be able to give their opinion to the accuser. Dont speak on facts you dont know Missy.

  11. I think the real challenge here is “reasonable doubt”. Because rape is such a terrible crime, jury does not acquit based on reasonable doubt during a trial. In cases where there is no evidence, then reasonable doubt exists. Here in my city, a jury came back with a guilty verdict in a rape case that had no evidence. When they heard the 30 year sentence issued by the judge, they all started crying and grabbing eachother’s hands. I think they were afraid to issue a not guilty verdict because of the social stigma surrounding these crimes. I think ALL false accusers should receive punishment. The best punishment may not be imprisonment, but certainly they should have to pay restitution to their victims, and their names need to be made as public as that of their victims.

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