Hanson’s lawyer, Jeff Larson, plans to argue that Gabriel was the aggressor and instigator in the events and that Hanson killed Gabriel in self-defense. Larson argued in a motion this week that calling Gabriel a victim would deprive Hanson of his presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial and would violate his constitutional rights.
Judge Robin Houwman agreed Thursday, telling prosecutors to avoid the term “victim” and instruct witnesses to refer to Gabriel by his name or as “the deceased.”
“I believe repeated use of the term (victim) can be prejudicial,” Houwman said [Mark Walker, “Lawyer: Teen Shot Gun in Self-Defense,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.12.17].
Judge Houwman appears to be affirming a point I raised this summer in opposition to Jason Glodt’s proposed crime victims’ bill of rights:
The Glodt amendment offers certain rights applicable to victims after the perpetrator has been sentenced, and those are mostly fine. But the above rights and some others in the Glodt amendment share a fatal legal flaw. Supporters of the Glodt amendment will say that this proposal is about giving victims rights and respect similar to what the legal system gives to criminals. But in many cases, we’re not talking about rights for criminals; we’re talking about rights for defendants. And as long as we’re talking about defendants, the rights above aren’t being granted to victims; they are being granted to alleged victims, to accusers like Chad Haber, to people who in the eyes of the law are not proven victims.
This overarching argument is exactly the sort of unpleasant legalism that Glodt and his campaigners will use to cudgel their opponents—How dare you suggest these poor families aren’t victims?! But it’s true: defendants get special status because the state is coming down on them. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty; they thus enjoy unique protections against the possible errors and abuses of the state. Just as the state may not oppress defendants until due process leads to a guilty verdict, the state should not be able to favor certain citizens until due process has shown they have been harmed. Alleged victims enjoy protection from harassment and invasions of privacy under existing statutes that apply to all citizens equally [C.A. Heidelberger, “Glodt Amendment for “Victims” Rights Redundant, Unenforceable, Unwise,” Dakota Free Press, 2015.08.11].
It sounds harsh, but Judge Houwman agrees: the deceased isn’t a crime victim until we’ve proven a crime happened. Judge Houwman’s ruling in the Hanson murder trial supports the argument that Jason Glodt can’t give crime victims rights before we’ve convicted defendants of their crimes.