Suspects say charges based on long-ignored rape evidence violate their due process rights.

Maurice Summerall
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Maurice Summerall

A man charged nearly 14 years after a woman reported she was raped will be able to have a fair trial, a Shelby County prosecutor argued Thursday.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that “delay in the commission of an offense and the commencement of prosecution may violate the constitutional right to due process.”

Attorney Charles Mitchell argued that the delay in prosecution has hampered Maurice  Summerall’s ability to defend himself at trial, because witnesses have not been located and memories fade.

“Because (Summerall) was not indicted until March 12, 2015, no defense was sought; no witnesses were previously located, no statements taken as to their knowledge of events,” Mitchell wrote in a motion to dismiss.

Challenging the motion to dismiss, prosecutor Abby Wallace wrote in court documents, “It is uncontroverted that the State caused the delay in testing of the rape kit and latent fingerprints.  The reason for the delay, however, was systematic bureaucratic indifference and incompetence.” (Emphasis ours.)

On March 17, 2001, a woman told Memphis police she had been raped and robbed at gunpoint in a motel room.  Police took six cards containing fingerprints from the bathroom sink and the victim submitted to a forensic examination at the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center.

Police did not send her rape kit for DNA testing until 12 years and eight months later, according to a motion filed by Mitchell.

On January 26, 2015, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that DNA evidence in the rape kit matched Summerall, a convicted felon.  MPD later sent the fingerprint samples for testing, which produced a match to Summerall.

Mitchell called the delay in testing the fingerprints “indefensible” and the delay in DNA testing “equally inexcusable.”

“The State’s utter lack of interest in prosecuting this case, given the information obtained in the initial investigation and the availability of the fingerprint and sexual assault kit evidence for testing for over thirteen years, too well illustrates the state’s ‘reckless disregard of circumstances’ known to them,” Mitchell wrote.  “Until forced by a community’s righteous indignation that this and thousands of similar cases are held in bureaucratic limbo, the state continued to ‘ignore and forget’ the powerful evidence at its fingertips in favor of not proceeding with the prosecution of Defendant.” (Emphasis ours.)

Summerall joins numerous other suspects who are using a due process defense against these rape charges that Memphis authorities failed to act on for so long. Bridges Randle, a former MPD officer, vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Eric Curry is fighting, too.

We will vigilantly monitor these cases as they progress through the courts.

People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws is a program of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to monitor law enforcement responses to sexual violence.  Our goal is to end the law enforcement and political practices that effectively decriminalize sexual violence.   To this end, we connect victims with information about their rights and equip individuals with tools to advocate for themselves and others and advocate for fair criminal justice policies.  We urge you to learn more about America’s hidden rape crisis, where it has been exposed, and why it matters.  We invite you to take action and support our efforts to make sure law enforcement takes rape seriously.  

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