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Center for Global Justice Intern – Nicole Tutrani

The Gibbs Chronicles

            For the most part, every time I am asked where I am interning this summer, the overwhelming reaction to my answer is a perplexed look coupled with the exclamation “NCIS is real!?” or something of the sort. No, there is no Gibbs or Abby, and the vast majority of cases we handle involve more alcohol-induced stupidity than international terrorism. NCIS (the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, for those unfamiliar with the popular CBS television series), however, is a federal law enforcement agency, and my division, stationed at the Norfolk Naval Base, was created in order to better respond to the high number of sexual assaults experienced by women (and occasionally men) in the U.S. Navy. NCIS’s sexual assaults task force in Norfolk is one of only three such task forces in the U.S. Navy. Its purpose is, in essence, to reduce the time it takes to respond to and investigate sexual assault accusations. Before the task force’s creation, the average response time to a sexual assault claim was 300 days from the time of reporting, and that is just on the investigative end. It was only after that time a case was turned over to JAG for a decision on whether to proceed with a prosecution. At this point, the task force in Norfolk has reduced its response time from 300 to about 80 days, which, all things considered, is great. Nonetheless, throughout these past few months my eyes have been opened to a whole new side of the law, a side where things are not as they seem from the courtroom.

            For confidentiality purposes, I cannot go into detail regarding the cases I am currently working on. I will tell you, however, that the reason I selected this internship as opposed to something more traditional was because I wanted to see what it was like for victims of such heinous crimes before the months and years pass between the time of an assault and the point at which a case reaches a lawyer’s hand. What I did not expect to learn, was that it is not the cases that eventually reach the prosecutor’s office that we have to worry about; it is the dozens of cases per each actually prosecuted that don’t. One would be amazed at the number of cases, rape and even homicide included, that the military has declined to prosecute. Sometimes this is because evidence is lacking, a “he said, she said,” even when a woman has experienced great sexual trauma, is simply not enough to see her get justice. What is even worse, however, is when so much time has passed and a victim has been so traumatized that JAG reports they have declined prosecution (which more victims do than do not).

I suppose the difficult part for me has been to realize that you can’t really point the finger at law enforcement, prosecutors, or even politicians when these kinds of cases fall through the cracks. Even if you have no doubt a rape occurred, if every lead is exhausted and no additional evidence surfaces, what more is there to do from an earthly perspective? If a victim does not want to be re-traumatized by a trial or overly vigorous cross-examination, can you blame prosecutors for showing discretion in not subpoenaing her and forcing a trial? As much as I would like to, I simply cannot. What this experience has taught me is that we are blessed as lawyers and law students that we get to work on cases where there is at least a hope some justice will be done. The reality, however, is that most victims’ cases will not get that far. Most incidents are never reported, don’t make it past the investigatory phase, or simply die out in pre-trial proceedings. Never have I been more aware of that fact that earthly justice is indeed imperfect.

I am proud to be helping NCIS accomplish its mission this summer, and cannot say enough about the dedication and sacrifice special agents devote to the causes of truth and justice. There will always, however, be those victims that slip through the cracks, and as Christians we can never forget to continually pray that the Lord will bring true peace and justice to those victims who will never see it by our hands.

Nicole Tutrani, 3L