|Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs|
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, was one of the 34 legislators who opposed the measure and killed the bill after about a half-hour debate. They generally cited the stigma associated with being accused of a sex crime, despite not having been convicted of anything.
In listening to the Jan. 22 debate, one of Baker's statements really stood out to me:
"I heard a statistic that ... 3 percent of these cases actually lead to conviction, which is alarming to me. So if you're talking about 97 percent of these cases that don't end up in conviction, you're talking about 97 percent of people that have now been labeled and put a target on their back," he said.
Krone, a deputy Park County prosecutor, responded by asking for a source, "because I'm not familiar with that data."
A 3 percent conviction rate on sexual crimes seemed really far out of whack with what I've seen with Park County cases. (Though admittedly I don't know exactly how many cases have been thrown out at the Circuit Court level, since all those records are confidential under the law legislators voted to uphold...)
I asked Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric -- who, for the record, is Krone's boss -- for an estimate of the conviction rate for sexual crime charges in Park County.
Skoric responded: "That 3 percent number is not correct for Park County, period."
I asked Rep. Baker where he got the statistic and he responded:
"The statistic I quoted was a rough figure I had heard in passing and I was called on it by the sponsor of the bill. As a freshman, it is an important lesson for me to learn. To have quotable facts from sources or stick with generalities as some of the other speakers on the bill chose to do. There is a lot of research on the topic and estimates range widely. I apologize for any confusion that this may have caused."He provided several links as examples of the varying estimates: a Fox News column, a site defending a Swami accused of sexual misconduct, a survey by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, a summary of an Associated Press story posted on a blog about false accusations, and a fact sheet from a non-profit group called Child Abuse Solutions.
None of those sources appear to speak to what percentage of criminal cases result in a conviction.
A lot of the data refers to false accusations of sexual assault, which aren't the same thing as the cases that would have been affected by the bill.
A charge in a criminal case comes only after an accuser's allegations are investigated by police and a prosecutor like Krone or Skoric believes there's enough evidence to convict the person they're charging. That's not to say the system's foolproof: the AP story cited by Baker reported on a study in Virginia that found at least 8 to 15 percent of people convicted of sexual assault were wrongfully convicted; the Fox News column cites research finding 25 percent of convictions were wrong.
In addition to providing the links, Baker noted the conviction rate wasn't his only concern with the bill. He'd argued it was unnecessary (noting judges can detain any defendants they find dangerous and arguing most defendants don't randomly grab their victims off the streets), that defendants will be permanently damaged by being publicly identified (even if the case is thrown out later) and noting defendants will ultimately be identified if a judge finds there's enough evidence for the case to proceed.
Baker raised some eyebrows on Twitter with a different statistic on Wednesday when, as he spoke in opposition to a bill that give same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, he said only 1 percent of gay people die of natural causes.
It's total B.S. @butterbob @joshwolfson Here's some info on his (completely debunked) "source" for that stat: bit.ly/VwuquC
— Chris Merrill (@ChrisMerrillWyo) January 31, 2013