A Montana attorney defended her widely condemned comments about a teenage rape victim’s appearance during a sentencing hearing.
Lisa Kauffman told a court last week that a 13-year-old rape victim looked and acted like an adult, but she said Missoula County District Court Judge Robert Deschamps opened the door to her defense, reported the Missoulian.
Her client, 26-year-old Justin Griffith, pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault earlier this year for having sex with a patient at the teen addiction recover center where he worked, and Kaufman told the court the girl looked and acted much older.
“She looks and acts like she’s 18 years old,” Kauffman told the court. “You should see the pictures of her and the hair and the makeup.”
Kauffman told the Missoulian that she brought up the girl’s looks to provide the zealous representation she owed Griffith, who was accused of sexual misconduct by a second girl, but those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
“I am comfortable saying things that are unpopular if it’s best for my client,” Kaufman told the newspaper. “My point wasn’t to re-victimize her, my point was to get him a lesser sentence.”
Kauffman said the judge first called the teen girl a “temptress” during sentencing, when he suggested he might permit Griffith to avoid prison if he believed the girl played a role in her own rape.
“I tell you what would make the difference here, would be if she was some temptress that raped him and now he’s — he’s, you know — because he was a victim but the perpetrator happened to be underage, you know, that might make a difference,” Deschamps said, according to court transcripts. “But short of that, I don’t know that anything would make a difference.”
Deschamps told Kauffman could potentially have seduced Griffith, and Kauffman agreed.
“Well, of course you and I both know that,” Kauffman told the court. “But every women’s rights group in this country would be all over you and me. We’re not allowed to talk like that anymore.”
The prosecutor said he found the conversation offensive, and Kauffman then described the girl’s appearance.
Kauffman told the newspaper that girls at the treatment center may have “acted out sexually” as part of their trauma, and she insisted she was not excusing her client’s behavior.
“I’m not blaming the victim here,” she said. “I’m just saying you have to put all that together in terms of the way they presented themselves.”
The judge reviewed the transcript Friday and said he understood why Kauffman believed he was inviting evidence about the teen victim, but he insists the attorney misunderstood.
“That wasn’t my intention,” Deschamps told the newspaper. “I thought I was just saying I could see a situation. The only way I could see giving a deferred or even a suspended sentence was if this guy was raped by an underage person, but I didn’t think that was the case here. The legislature wouldn’t have even allowed judges to give deferred sentences unless there was some sort of fact pattern.”