EAGLE, Colo. – Although merely a formality, NBA star Kobe Bryant (search) is expected to plead not guilty this week to charges he raped a 19-year old woman last summer.
The formal arraignment scheduled Wednesday will cap three days of hearings. But the prospect of Bryant, 25, uttering a forceful "not guilty" at the televised arraignment will get the most attention, observers say.
"It gives you film of no significance," said Larry Pozner, a former defense lawyer. "If people want to see Kobe Bryant saying in a hard, strong voice, `Not guilty,' they get it. But come on, of course only America would put significance on it."
Bryant, 25, has already said he had consensual sex with the woman last June at a Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted of felony sexual assault, the Los Angeles Lakers (search) star would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.
Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) has allowed a single TV camera and a single newspaper photographer to be present in the courtroom at the arraignment — only the third time in the case he has done so.
The other hearings starting Monday continue to examine critical issues including defense attorneys' attempts to use the accuser's sexual history against her at trial.
Bryant's attorneys say injuries to the woman could have come from other sexual partners in the days before her encounter with Bryant, and that evidence from underwear the woman wore to a hospital examination did not match Bryant.
The woman's attorney has denied she had sex with anybody after Bryant and before she reported the encounter to police. Prosecutors say her other sexual encounters are irrelevant to whether she was assaulted.
Colorado's rape-shield law generally bars defense attorneys from introducing an alleged victim's sex life as evidence, but there are exceptions. The judge has said arguments may also begin this week on a defense motion to declare the statute unconstitutional.
Also to be heard this week are prosecutors' attempts to limit evidence regarding the woman's mental health history, including purported suicide attempts before her encounter with Bryant, and any evidence about her drug and alcohol use.
According to state law, a trial is required within six months after a formal plea is entered in most cases.