June 28, 2004 09:35 AM

A Colorado judge has set the date: Kobe Bryant’s trial on felony sexual assault charges will begin on Aug. 27.

Chief District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle made the announcement Friday, and opening statements in the case could begin by Sept. 7.

During last week’s pre-trial hearings, Kobe Bryant’s attorney, Pamela Mackey, estimated the entire trial would last four weeks. Prosecutor Mark Hurlbert said he thought it would take only three weeks.

The news of the trial date comes almost exactly a year after Bryant’s alleged assault of a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado resort. Bryant has pleaded not guilty and insists the sex was consensual. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star, 25, faces a prison term of four years to life, with probation of 20 years to life and a potential fine of up to $750,000.

The trial will begin with jury selection, with summons sent out to 1,000 residents of the county, which is home to 42,000 people – although, a court spokeswoman noted, many are second-home owners rather than full-time residents.

Ruckriegle has yet to rule on whether possible evidence about the accuser’s sexual activity just before and after the alleged assault can be introduced at trial.

The case has raised several issues that break new legal ground for the state of Colorado, the Associated Press reports. Among them is the question of consensuality: Bryant’s attorneys want Ruckriegle to tell jurors they must acquit Bryant if they find the sex was consensual, because the charge includes an element of submission – a line saying the act was “against the alleged victim’s will.”

“It’s a new issue for the judge and it’s an important issue in Colorado law,” Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, tells AP. “If the prosecution has to prove that this was done against her will, then a jury who decided that they are not convinced of that beyond a reasonable doubt must acquit Kobe Bryant.”

Ruckriegle also has ruled that Bryant’s accuser cannot be called a “victim” in court, because it creates the impression that a crime has in fact been committed.

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