EAGLE, Colo. -- In what is considered a first in Colorado
courts, prosecutors and Kobe Bryant's lawyers are wrangling over
details of how to guide jurors in determining the NBA star's guilt
Defense attorneys want state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle to
tell jurors they must acquit Bryant if they determine Bryant's accuser consented to submit to sex.
That issue is among several brought up in the sexual assault
case against Bryant that have not come up before in Colorado
courts. Bryant's high-powered defense team has flooded prosecutors
with paper, filing motions and seeking rulings on anything they
believe could lead to an acquittal, or a reversal on appeal if
Bryant is convicted.
The Los Angeles Lakers guard was scheduled to return to Eagle on
Monday for a two-day hearing, during which the judge could set a
date for the trial. One more pretrial hearing is scheduled for late July.
In a case that has generated widespread publicity on topics
including graphic details of the encounter between Bryant and a
then-19-year-old hotel worker, a dry discussion over legal
But the jury-instruction debate is a fight over fundamental
questions that could determine whether Bryant is convicted on a
charge that could send him to prison for life.
"It's earthshaking in a sexual assault consent-defense case,
but it has none of the pizzaz of rape-shield motions and other
motions that are about a fact rather than about the law," said
Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Part of the hearing will deal with the "rape-shield" motion filed by Bryant's lawyers, seeking to introduce information about Bryant's accuser sex life in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant.
Under the defense's proposed jury instructions, prosecutors
would have to prove separately and beyond a reasonable doubt that
the woman did not consent to submit to sex.
Prosecutors say the type of assault Bryant is charged with
includes an element of submission -- "against the alleged victim's
will" -- meaning the question of consent to submission does not
apply. They also contend the defense is mistaken in saying
prosecutors must prove Bryant knew the woman did not consent.
"These are extremely interesting and important legal issues
that legal scholars debate and judges must decide, but they don't
play well on TV, they don't write up well in the papers," Pozner
Appeals based on mistakes in jury instructions are common,
lending additional importance to the issue, said former prosecutor
Karen Steinhauser, a visiting professor at the University of Denver
College of Law.
"It's all technicalities, but it's technicalities that make the
difference in terms of whether a conviction gets sustained or
not," she said.
Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying
he had consensual sex with the woman at a Vail-area hotel
last summer. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison,
20 years to life on probation and a fine of up to $750,000.
Also scheduled for this hearing is the conclusion of arguments
on the relevance of the Bryant's accuser's sex life, which will occur
behind closed doors. Another jury-instruction matter is expected to
be brought up as well: Bryant's attorneys want jurors to be told
that investigators failed to collect evidence that could suggest
Bryant is innocent.