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 at having sex with her while she was held down. Around them is a crowd of onlookers. None stopped or attempted to stop, this from happening. In fact, a crowd gathered around these men who were raping Sarah and were cheering them on and encouraging others to join in. The District Attorney Kathryn Murphy 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 enter 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 with dealing with rape and shows rape as a societal attitude rather than an incident. This film portrays a legal battle which puts on trial the whole “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 reason 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, and that is done in private. A judge then confirms it. In a plea bargain, the accused in a crime pleads guilty to a lesser charge and the resultant punishment is less severe. In this case, instead of a felony Rape One conviction and heavy sentence they plead 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 at all. Sarah saw this as a society condoning her abuse. She was brutally gang-raped in public and humiliated, and her assailants walk away with a slap on the wrist. More recently some states have banned the use of plea bargaining completely because of its abuse.
It is a powerful film which presents an ugly truth about rape and society’s reactions to it. The immoral reaction of the onlookers; the brutal and animalistic attitude of the rapist, and the inadequacy of the criminal justice system to bring about justice, due to its prejudices, and the legal loophole of plea bargaining.