Michigan coed who made false rape report sentenced to 45 days in jail

The good news is that the serious crime of making a false rape report is being punished. The bad news is that the punishment is a tiny fraction of the potential prison term an innocent man could have faced if convicted based on false testimony.  MLive reports on the case of Delta College student:

Despite previously indicating he wouldn't do so, a Bay County judge sent a woman to jail for making up a story about being raped in a Delta College parking lot.

Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran on Monday, June 18, sentenced 21-year-old Mary T. Zolkowski to 45 days in jail, with no credit for any time served. Once Zolkowski serves her term, she'll be on probation for two years, during which she is to be tested for drugs and alcohol and participate in substance abuse counseling.

The judge also ordered Zolkowski receive a mental health assessment.

Sheeran deferred an additional 220 days in jail, meaning Zolkowski will only have to serve them if she violates probation.

Zolkowski's sentencing guidelines ranged from zero to six months.

Molly Zolkowski, via NY Post and Instagram

Although an innocent man was detained and given a lie detector test that he passed, he did not face the financial and personal ordeal of a trial. Unlike the infamous Duke lacrosse team case. The fact that Zolkowski changed her story a few times probably contributed to the lessening of what was still a personal ordeal for the falsely accused man. The New York Post summarizes her flip-flops (detailed here and here):

She reportedly told police she was walking to her car when a man grabbed her from behind and raped her without a condom while holding her face and throat, and said she only saw the man’s hands and that he fled in a car before she could see his face.

Zolkowski refused a physical exam after the alleged incident, the news outlet reported in August 2017.

When investigators met with her a second time, Zolkowski reportedly said the suspect was an acquaintance and she had been raped at an apartment.

The student at the time apologized for her confusion, adding she didn’t want to press charges. In a third interview with police, Zolkowski reportedly changed her story again — telling police she wanted to tell the suspect to stop during sex, but it ended before she was able to do so.

The Post’s report indicates much higher potential legal jeopardy for Zolkowski than the sentencing guidelines reported by MLive of Zero to six months.

Zolkowski, who pleaded guilty to making a false report of a felony, faced up to four years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

A false accusation of rape or a lesser sexual assault can ruin a man’s life, and if a conviction results, serious prison time, which realistically includes the likelihood of extended prison rape for the innocent man.

In this case, the worst possible outcomes were avoided. And Zolokowski may have mental issues, as MLive reported:

Zolkowski's attorney, James F. Piazza, said in the same March hearing that his client has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions for which she is receiving treatment.

But so far as I can tell, claims of mental incapacity were not a factor in her relatively light sentence. Maybe the fact that her false claim didn’t get very far is a mitigating factor explaining a month and a half in jail. Probably, it will function as a deterrent.

But I would like it to be firmly in the consciousness of all that false reports of assault are a serious crime, and I would like some degree of proportionality between the punishment for a false accusation and the punishment for the crime that is being alleged, for that is the potential harm at stake.

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