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Man Convicted of Sexual Assault Sued Victim for Calling Him a Rapist on Facebook

Ms. Yee Xiong, the University of California, Davis student who woke up in 2014 the morning after a party to find a former friend on top of her, raping her, was sued by her assailant for defamation this year. The assailant, who pleaded no contest to felony assault a few months ago, served Ms. Xiong with a defamation lawsuit on the same day he was sentenced. The action sought $4 million in damages.

The lawsuit, which was quickly dismissed by a Yuba County judge, alleged that the assailant's reputation was damaged by Ms. Xiong and her sisters as a result of Facebook posts that they made and/or shared that called him a rapist. The assailant, despite pleading no contest to a non-sex related crime, is still required to register as a sex offender. The underlying rape case was tried twice, and was set to be tried a third time, as the first two trials resulted in hung juries, when the assailant accepted a plea bargain.

How Is This Even Possible?

Under the law a cause of action for defamation of character generally requires a plaintiff show that a defendant made untrue statements about them to others, and that as a result of those statements, they suffered damages. In this case, the assailant was never found guilty of rape, and premised his defamation case on the fact that he plead no contest to felony assault, so that rape was never actually proven, nor admitted. As such, the statements made by Ms. Xiong on Facebook about her assailant being a rapist could be construed as untrue.

Despite the technicality that the assailant was not convicted of sexual assault, nor rape, it stands to reason that Ms. Xiong could prove that her statements were true in defense of the claim. Truth is a defense to defamation. While the assailant was never found guilty by a jury in criminal court, the standard of persuasion is much lower in a civil court. In California civil courts, the standard for proving liability is only mere preponderance, meaning that Ms. Xiong's own testimony would likely have defeated her assailant's claims. One need only to remember the OJ Simpson civil trial, where he was found liable for murder, despite having been found not guilty in the criminal court trial.

Courts Really Allow This?

Yes, however, while courts will allow almost any lawsuit to be filed, each state has procedures by which cases that clearly lack merit can be summarily dismissed. In the case of Ms. Xiong, that is exactly what happened. Upon motion by her attorney, the case against her was summarily dismissed.

Additionally, in cases that involve a lot of publicity, First Amendment protections will attach to the statements of the parties made in public about the case.

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