Open letter to Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission: Are women with Down syndrome safe in Georgia?

Georgia Judge Christopher McFaddenJudge Christopher McFadden issued an order overturning a jury verdict finding a man guilty of raping and sodomizing a 24-year old woman with Down syndrome, citing as one of his reasons that she had not acted “like a victim.” Beyond his apparent judicial incompetence, this ignorant reasoning deserves discipline to restore trust in the Georgia judicial system. 

From the reporting, Judge McFadden is clearly incompetent to act as a trial judge. That is not my assessment, it is his own.

Judge McFadden is a Court of Appeals judge who had zero trial experience before becoming a judge. He had sought special designation to sit as a trial judge in order to gain experience to inform his appellate review. Recognizing his utter lack of experience, he asked another judge to consult with him during the trial, and still he made basic errors.

Judge McFadden knew he was incapable of presiding, but proceeded to anyways.

The jury received the following evidence:

  • Testimony from the victim that the defendant, William Jeffrey Dumas, raped her.
  • The defendant’s semen was found on the victim’s bed.
  • A  doctor testified that the evidence was consistent with forcible rape.

The jury weighed the credibility of the witnesses, as is their exclusive purview; and, they returned a guilty verdict on two counts of rape and one count of sodomy. Dumas was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012.

His mother then procured private defense counsel for him and his new defense counsel made a motion for a new trial. Judge McFadden presided over the hearing on the motion and had Dumas give testimony, even though Dumas had not testified in the trial itself. 

Judge McFadden then entered an order granting a new trial. His reasons included, inter alia, that

[The woman with Down syndrome] did [not] behave like a victim. Nor did Mr. Dumas behave like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes against her.

Consider if he had made this determination about any other minority in the United States: that a black woman had not acted enough like a victim; that a Latino woman had not acted enough like a victim; that a gay man had not acted enough like a victim. How would you then consider this request for discipline? Undoubtedly you would recognize Judge McFadden’s assessment suggests at best an ignorance and at worst a prejudice against that minority group. That the victim here had Down syndrome should not lessen the discipline or excuse Judge McFadden’s ignorant assessment, it should be an aggravating factor.

My daughter has Down syndrome and my first fear upon learning the diagnosis was that she would be sexually assaulted. Women in general are at a significant risk for sexual assault, but for women with disabilities, it becomes more likely than not that they will be sexually assaulted. I should not have to educate my daughter on how she should act should she be raped in Georgia, lest an incompetent judge view her reaction to be less than convincing of actually having been raped–even when the assailant’s semen is found on her bed.

The only recourse I would have should such a tragedy occur is to rely on the court system to hold a trial before a jury and find the assailant guilty. I should not have to worry whether that verdict will be overturned and her assailant avoid justice because a judge thinks his preconceived notion of how rape victims should behave trumps the judgment made by a jury.

Judge McFadden needs to be disciplined for his incompetence, his ignorance, and his woefully unwise judgment. He reflects poorly on the judiciary of Georgia and discipline should be imposed to restore trust in the Georgia judicial system.

The National Down Syndrome Congress is asking for those concerned by this case to make their own filing calling for discipline with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission. If so inclined, you may send your letter to:

Judicial Qualifications Commission
P.O. Box 191
Madison, GA 30650
Phone: (706) 343-5891
Fax: (706) 342-4593
I hope that you will.
UPDATE: In the second criminal trial, before a different judge, the defendant was convicted again by a jury. The judge, this time believing the victim, sentenced the perpetrator to 25 years in prison followed by a life of probation. The mother is interviewed in this news segment. The rape occurred in 2010 and the trial before Judge McFadden was in 2012. Five years after the event itself, and having to testify about in a second, needless trial, the mom says her daughter was mentally raped by the process. Justice delayed is justice denied, but at least the sentence was finally handed down for this crime.

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