THE ACCUSED (1988)
The Accused deals with a gang rape that took place in a tavern. Several men held Sarah Tobias, a young woman with a reputation for promiscuity, down on the pinball table and took turns having sex with her against her will. Around them, a crowd of onlookers watched, failing to stop the offense from happening. In fact, the crowd gathered around the men who were raping Sarah and cheered them on and encouraging others to join in. District Attorney Kathryn Murphy, who was assigned to the case, wanted to drop the case completely.
After an argument, her superior instructed her to enter a plea bargain, which required some jail time, but not as heavy as a rape sentence would bring. The rapists entered a guilty plea for “reckless endangerment” and were sentenced for this lesser crime. Sarah was angry, especially as she did not get a chance to tell her story in court, and because the justice system viewed her promiscuity as a reason to be lenient with the rapists. This is based on a true case in America. The film shows the difficulty society has dealing with rape and shows rape as a societal attitude rather than an incident. This film portrays a legal battle which puts on trial “rape culture” within our society and reveals the gender-prejudice within the justice system and a class prejudice that does not protect a woman who does not meet its moral standards. The law on rape is that if a man forcibly subjects a woman to sexual intercourse without her consent, he has committed the crime of rape. These men in the tavern raped Sarah.
The real issue of the film is that of plea bargaining. Sarah needs to tell her story and to be heard in court for her own healing. However, one of the main reasons for the rules of plea bargaining is to avoid a trial and to get a lesser punishment. There are different reasons for this. The state may want information from the accused in return. Or, the accused may be required to return the proceeds of a robbery in return. The prosecutor and the accused agree on a lesser charge, which is done in private. A judge will then confirm it. In a plea bargain, the accused pleads guilty to a lesser charge and the resultant punishment is less severe. In this case, instead of a felony rape conviction and heavy sentence, they pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, and received shorter sentences, with the chance of getting parole much easier than if they were convicted for rape. This was not a valid use of the plea bargaining system. Sarah saw this as a society condoning her abuse. She was brutally gang-raped in public and humiliated, and her assailants walked away with a slap on the wrist. More recently, some states have banned the use of plea bargaining completely because of its abuse.
The Accused is a powerful film that presents an ugly truth about rape and society’s reactions to it. It confronts the immoral reaction of the onlookers, the brutal and animalistic attitude of the rapist, the inadequacy of the criminal justice system to bring about justice, due to its prejudices, and the legal loophole of plea bargaining.