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Court: Rape accusers immune from suit

July 2, 2009 at 11:22 AM

DETROIT, July 2 (UPI) -- A U.S. federal appeals court ruled a man the courts determined was wrongly convicted of rape cannot sue his accuser -- a decision observers view as landmark.

A lawyer for the woman said the opinion issued Wednesday by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means rape victims can relate what happened to them without fear of being sued, The Detroit News reported Thursday.

"We certainly see this as a victory both for her and for all rape victims similarly situated," said Sarah Prout, managing attorney at Lakeshore Legal Aid. "It really is a landmark case."

The appeals court, reversing a federal judge's ruling, threw out 21 of Jeffrey Moldowan's claims in a federal lawsuit he filed in 2005, saying the woman is immune from civil prosecution for her testimony -- even if she testified falsely.

While the woman's naming Moldowan, a former boyfriend, as one of her attackers "was critical to the Macomb County prosecutor's decision to prosecute him, her statements were only part of a broader, independent investigation," the appeals court ruled.

"Victims of crime, especially the types of crime that occurred here, must feel secure that cooperating with the police will not expose them to lengthy and invasive civil proceedings," the opinion said. And, the court said, victims should have absolute immunity from civil litigation.

Moldowan, 37, spent 12 years in prison for rape and assault convictions before he was acquitted in a new trial. He is suing the city of Warren, Mich., the police officers involved in the case, a discredited bite-mark expert who testified at his trial, Wayne County prosecutors and the woman who accused him.

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