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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Courts Putting Hot-Button Words on Ice

Quiet_mouth_cover Call it the age of the Loaded Word. A steadily increasing number of courts across the United States are prohibiting witnesses and victims from uttering certain words in front of a jury, banning everything from the words "rape" to "victim" to "crime scene."

Prosecutors and victims' rights advocates nationwide claim the courts are going too far in trying to cleanse witness testimony, all to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial. Concerns and fears over language restrictions have been percolating ever since judges in Nebraska and Missouri last year banned the word "rape" during rape trials.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg, claim critics, who say courts telling witnesses what words they can and can't say is a much larger trend than they had realized. In addition to "rape," courts also have banned the terms "homicide," "drunk," "victim," "murderer," "killer" and "crime scene."

"I've gotten a flood of e-mails saying, 'Wow, you should see the number of times that this is happening in our jurisdiction,' " said Joshua Marquis, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, who strongly objects to censoring witnesses, especially victims. "It's absurd. It's dangerous. And it's growing." [Mark Godsey]

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