Alice is assaulted by Bob. Alice reports the assault to the police, including the fact that Bob is the assailant. The police investigate then turn their findings over to the local prosecutor's office. After reviewing the case, the prosecutor's office brings charges and issues an arrest warrant for Bob. The charging documents list Alice as Jane Doe.

How far through the proceedings can Alice remain anonymous, both from the defense and from the public?

Follow-up question here

  • Doesn't that depend on which jurisdiction they're in? Mar 31 at 19:52

2 Answers 2


The charging document must identify the complainant / victim to the accused with sufficient particularity to give the accused the ability to mount a full answer and defence. For an assault, this will almost always require the name of the individual victim. For some other offences, such as offences committed remotely like fraud, identifying transactions rather than individuals might be sufficient.

However, there are various provisions in the Criminal Code that allow a judge to prohibit the publication of any information that could identify a witness or victim. This would prohibit the publication of identifying information by the media, and by the court itself in its reasons.

For a general assault of a person not under the age of 18, this would be a discretionary order, and the judge must take into account various factors, like the right to a fair and public hearing, the nature of the offence, whether the publication ban is necessary to protect the witness/victim, etc.

For various sexual offences, such a publication ban is mandatory on application by the victim, prosecutor, or witness.

When the victim is under the age of 18, no matter the offence, such a publication ban is also mandatory on application by the victim or prosecutor.


The charging documents list Alice as Jane Doe.

In some rare, isolated instances, this can be done in a civil lawsuit in California, but this would be allowed in a criminal prosecution in California only in sex offense cases where the victim specifically invokes this right:

Generally, victims of crime in California are entitled to the rights set forth in Article 1, Section 28, Subsection b of the California Constitution, known as the “Victim’s Bill of Rights.” The first of these rights is “[t]o be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.” Each county in California establishes a procedure to protect the confidentiality of witness or victim information contained in police, arrest, or investigative reports, if those reports are submitted to the court by a prosecutor or law enforcement officer. “‘Confidential personal information’ includes, but is not limited to an address, telephone number, driver’s license or California Identification Card number, social security number, date of birth, place of employment, employee identification number, mother’s maiden name, demand deposit account number, savings or checking account number, or credit card number.”

More specifically, victims of sexual offenses have the option of keeping their names out of the public record and assuming the pseudonym of Jane or John Doe in all records and court proceedings. However, the victim must assert this right, and affirmatively make the request that her name be withheld from the public record. Also, the defendant still maintains the right to a full discovery, and the prosecution must disclose the name and address of witnesses to the defense absent a showing of good cause concerning why the disclosure should be denied.

The option of using a pseudonym and withholding the victim’s name from the public record is only available to victims of the thirty-two crimes listed below:

  • Cal. Penal Code § 261 - Rape
  • Cal. Penal Code § 261.5 - Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with Person Under 18
  • Cal. Penal Code § 262 - Rape of Spouse
  • Cal. Penal Code § 264 - Rape, Punishment
  • Cal. Penal Code § 264.1 - Rape or Penetration of Genital or Anal Openings by Foreign Object; Acting in Concert by Force or Violence
  • Cal. Penal Code § 265 - Abduction for Marriage or Defilement
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266 - Inveiglement or Enticement of Unmarried Female under 18 for Purposes of Prostitution; Procuring Female for Illicit Intercourse by False Pretenses
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266a - Abduction or Procurement by Fraudulent Inducement for Prostitution
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266b - Abduction to Live in Illicit Relation
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266c - Unlawful Sexual Intercourse; Sexual Penetration; Oral Copulation; or Sodomy; Consent Procured by False of Fraudulent Representation with Intent to Create Fear
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266e - Purchasing Person for Purposes of Prostitution or Placing Person for Immoral Purposes
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266f - Sale of Person for Immoral Purposes
  • Cal. Penal Code § 266j - Procurement of Child Under Age 16 for Lewd or Lascivious Acts
  • Cal. Penal Code § 267 - Abduction; Person Under 18 for Purpose of Prostitution
  • Cal. Penal Code § 269 - Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Cal. Penal Code § 273a - Willful Harm or Injury to Child; Endangering Person or Health
  • Cal. Penal Code § 273d - Corporal Punishment or Injury of Child
  • Cal. Penal Code § 273.5 - Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury
  • Cal. Penal Code § 285 - Incest
  • Cal. Penal Code § 286 - Sodomy
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288 - Lewd or Lascivious Acts
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288a - Oral Copulation
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288.2 - Harmful Matter sent with Intent of Seduction of Minor
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288.3 - Contact of Minor with Intent to Commit Sexual Offense
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288.5 - Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
  • Cal. Penal Code § 288.7 - Sexual Intercourse or Sodomy with Child 10 years of age or Younger; Oral Copulation or Sexual Penetration of Child 10 Years of age or Younger
  • Cal. Penal Code § 289 - Forcible acts of Sexual Penetration
  • Cal. Penal Code § 422.6 - Hate Crime—Interference with exercise of civil rights because of actual or perceived characteristics of victim; damaging property; speech [characteristics underlying “hate crime” include gender and sexual orientation—see § 422.55]
  • Cal. Penal Code § 422.7 - Aggravating Factors for Hate Crime Punishment
  • Cal. Penal Code § 422.75 - Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crimes
  • Cal. Penal Code § 646.9 - Stalking
  • Cal. Penal Code § 647.6 - Annoying or Molesting a Child Under 18

The law enforcement employee who receives a report from a person alleging that the person is a victim of one of the above-listed crimes, must inform the victim that her or his name will become part of the public record unless she or he requests otherwise. The law enforcement employee must then record that the victim has been so informed and record the victim’s response. The law enforcement agency must not disclose the name or address of the victim to any person except as required or authorized by law. Authorized disclosures include those to the prosecutor, parole officers, parole hearing officers, and probation officers.

At the victim’s request, the court may order the victim’s identity to be recorded under a pseudonym (Jane or John Doe) in all records and proceedings “if the court finds that such an order is reasonably necessary to protect the privacy of the person and will not unduly prejudice the prosecution or the defense.” If a pseudonym is used pursuant to section 293.5(a), then the jury is instructed at the beginning and end of the trial that the pseudonym is being used only to protect the privacy of the victim. The instruction reads as follows: “In this case, a person is called (Jane/John Doe). This name is used only to protect (his/her) privacy as required by law.” At the request of the defense attorney, the court may also add these sentences to the instruction: “The fact that the person is identified in this way is not evidence. Do not consider this fact for any purpose.”

Cal. Penal Code sections 293 and 293.5, which provide privacy assurances to victims of sexual offenses, have been upheld despite constitutional challenges. In People v. Ramirez, the defendant presented several arguments against the statutes. First, the defendant argued that allowing the victim to be known as Jane Doe violated his right to a fair and impartial jury because, although the victim testified in person and all jurors saw the victim, there may have been jurors who knew the victim by name only.2The Court of Appeal rejected this argument stating “In nonlegal jargon, we think this is a stretch.”

Second, the defendant argued that the victim’s testimony as “Jane Doe” violated his right to confront and cross-examine her because the victim might “expand or embellish her testimony” if allowed to testify with a pseudonym. The court rejected this argument, noting that the defendant was provided with complete discovery and knew the victim’s true name and address. The court also relied on a Ninth Circuit opinion that stated “[t]here is no absolute right of an accused to have a jury hear a witness’s true name.” And, the court found that the balancing test provided in section 293, requiring the victim’s privacy interest to be weighed against the possibility that a pseudonym would prejudice the prosecution or defense, is constitutionally valid.

Third, the defendant argued that the jury instruction mandated by section 293.5 creates an inference that the court believes that the alleged victim is an actual victim, and thus unduly influenced the jury. The court also rejected this argument noting that (1) the defense did not request any additional clarifying language at the trial court level; and (2) that taken in context with all of the other instructions that the trial judge gave, no improper inference could have been drawn by the jury from the instruction about the witness’s use of a pseudonym.

Under the Penal Code sections governing discovery, the prosecution must disclose to the defense the names and addresses of the prosecution’s witnesses. There is, however, an exception in section 1054.7: “The disclosures required under this chapter shall be made at least 30 days prior to the trial, unless good cause is shown why a disclosure should be denied, restricted, or deferred. . . ‘Good cause’ is limited to threats or possible danger to the safety of a victim or witness, possible loss or destruction of evidence, or possible compromise of other investigations by law enforcement.” Protecting witnesses from embarrassment does not constitute “good cause.” Similarly, a feeling of fear, without evidence of threats, danger, inappropriate attempts to contact the victim, harassment, or the involvement of gang members, does not constitute good cause.

The way that the question is worded is ambiguous. It refers only to an "assault" by Bob on Alice (perhaps, for example, a domestic violence case involving a physical assault only). It isn't clear that the premise of the question that someone is allowed to be named as a "Jane Doe" is made realizing that this is only allowed in sex offense cases, or if it is based upon a misapprehension of California law.

How far through the proceedings can Alice remain anonymous, both from the defense and from the public?

Not very long unless it is a sex offense case as described above.

Search warrants and arrest warrants and the documents supporting them are often kept secret until the searches and arrests described in them are carried out. But, typically, Alice could not remain anonymous once a criminal complaint or indictment is filed.

In a sex offense case, however, the rules are set forth above and the general public would not gain access to this information unless someone violated the law to make that happen.

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