Santa Ana City Councilman Bustamante Charged with Molestation - Will The Victims' Right to Counsel Remain Hidden From Them?
In July, City Councilman Bustamante was charged with molesting seven women. While this is bad enough for those women, there is more bad news ahead.
Mr. Bustamente has been advised of his constitutional right to his own attorney. In fact he has already retained one of the most prestigious defense counsel in Southern California: Mr. James Riddet. Unlike Mr. Bustamante, the victims have probably not been advised of their constitutional (California Constitution, Article 1, section 28(c)(1)) right to counsel. Sadly, the perpetrator is being dealt a full deck by the prosecution - which always alerts defendants to their right to counsel. But District Attorneys have not implemented any procedures for notifying victims of their right to counsel. Nor has the California Attorney General.
Do victims need counsel? Certainly and this case is likely to be a prime example of why they need counsel. The typical strategy for sophisticated defense counsel in molestation cases is to question the ethics of the victims. But these defense counsel rarely stop at ethics, they often seek medical and psychological records of the victims. Victims have not one, not two, but three California Constitutional rights of privacy which might protect these records. Who will tell the victims about these constitutional rights to privacy? Probably no one. The incentive is often for the prosecution to cooperate in surrendering victim's records. This makes it is less likely that the case is later challenged on the grounds that the defense did not get everything it sought.
But the prosecution will remind Mr. Bustamante of his right against self-incrimination.
While it is true that victims have to pay for their own counsel, this does not detract from the importance of telling them of this right. Even poor victims alerted to their right to counsel can consider legal aid. It has long been established in this country that just because one is poor, that does not mean one's rights are hidden from them.
Under the current state of affairs, the women who were victimized by Mr. Bustamante stand to be victimized again by a system which does not alert them to their constitutional right to counsel.