In order to establish an effective defense in a sex crimes case (after ruling out a statute of limitations violation), it is important for an attorney to diminish the credibility of the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses. Below, we present a sampling of circumstances and considerations that are often explored while preparing legal defenses for our clients. Please know that the below information is only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.
Checking the Statue of Limitations
A statute of limitations (SOL) protects an individual from having to defend himself against alleged criminal activity so far in the past that the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time. Generally, the “clock” starts on the date of the alleged commission of the sexual offense. If a defendant is not formally charged with the crime before the SOL period has expired, his prosecution for that offense is barred by law.
If it is determined that the prosecuting attorney’s office is attempting to prosecute a person in violation of the statute of limitations, this should be raised in court. However, in making this determination the following two commonly unknown provisions should be explored:
Statute of limitations periods can legally be extended retroactively (subject to applicable law). If the SOL period for a crime has expired before legislature extends it, then the new SOL cannot apply. However, if the original SOL period has not expired before legislature extends it, the new SOL period could apply depending upon state law. For example, if someone was alleged to have committed sexual assault in 1980 when the SOL period was 10 years, and in 1988 legislature changed the SOL period to 30 years, the new SOL expiration date could be 2010.
Statute of limitations periods can be extended via “tolling” (subject to applicable law). This means that the “clock” stops during certain time frames. For example, certain states exclude the following time frames: 1) time during which the defendant does not reside in the charging state, 2) time during which the defendant has absconded, or 3) time until the alleged victim turns 16 or 18 (if involving a minor).
Establishing Accuser Motivation
Because sexual assault charges are often based on the word of the accuser, the motivations and background of the accuser are highly relevant to sex crimes defense and can create substantial reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors. Proper pre-trial investigation and use of psychological experts can uncover facts that can be helpful to your defense.
LYING ABOUT CONSENSUAL SEX. Despite being involved in a consensual sexual encounter, a person may make a false allegation of sexual assault in order to negate responsibility for being in that sexual encounter, i.e., because the person would be negatively affected if friends or family knew he or she willfully participated. In such cases, the following evidence can be considered:
- Was there any unusual phone activity after the alleged assault compared to the norm?
- Were there any text messages, emails or social media posts that would indicate an assault had occurred?
- Are there any photos that were taken after the alleged assault that would indicate the absence of an assault?
- Are there any witnesses who observed the complainant’s demeanor after the alleged assault, or heard him or her give any statements?
- Is there evidence that the two of you met again afterwards?
- Is there evidence that you had consensual sexual relations with the person previously?
- Did the complainant seek a medical exam?
DIVORCE AND CHILD CUSTODY DISPUTES. A parent may make false accusations of molestation or inappropriate sexual behavior against his or her spouse in order to gain an advantage in family court. Such false charges are a common tactic in divorce and custody cases. In such cases, the following evidence can be considered:
- Is there evidence that the relationship or marriage was failing before the allegations were made?
- Was there a previous attempt to end the relationship?
- Is there evidence of infidelity by either you or your partner that would motivate your partner to fabricate allegations?
- Did you notice any unusual behavior or statements from the child preceding the allegations that would indicate your partner was “coaching” him or her?
- Were there any heated arguments during which your partner threatened you?
- Would there be a financial advantage for your partner?
FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE. A sexual assault accusation can be a way for an accuser to extort money from a defendant. Celebrities are not the only targets of these schemes. An employee can easily bring such a charge against an employer. We have also seen extortion associated with extramarital affairs. In such cases, the following evidence can be considered:
- Is the complainant financially unstable or is there evidence that he or she would be in the near future?
- Is there evidence that the complainant was aware of your financial status?
- Is there evidence that the complainant has or intends to file a civil lawsuit against you?
- Is there evidence of nefarious intent in any emails, texts or social media posts?
- Has the complainant previously made allegations against anyone else?
Child Complainants – “Tainted” Evidence
It is plausible that teenagers may have motivation to falsely accuse a person of sexual assault, which may include drug and alcohol abuse; mental illness; disdain for a stepparent or live-in boyfriend; and revenge. However, it much less plausible that young children would have such motivation. Nevertheless, there are other reasons why such children may make a false claim.
“Taint” can occur when children are subjected to biased and suggestive interviews. Parents, teachers, police and even therapists can ask leading questions such as “daddy touched you there, didn’t he?” Often, the adult conducting the interrogation is not consciously aware of the suggestive nature of the questioning, but sometimes the adult may deliberately and maliciously attempt to distort a child’s understanding of what in fact happened. In either case, young children, who are eager to please adults, often answer “yes” and even build false memories about events that did not actually occur.
If it is believed that a child complainant is the victim of “taint,” one’s attorney can request a “taint hearing.”
Suppression of Evidence
In sex crimes cases the suppression of evidence can be as important as the production of evidence to one’s defense. If photographs, computer files or other records were obtained from you, there are very strict search and seizure guidelines that the police must follow. Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against you in court. In sex crimes cases, there are limited circumstances in which incriminating evidence can be suppressed. Nevertheless, a motion to suppress is a Constitutional Right and an effective weapon in the hands of an experienced sex crimes defense attorney.
Contact Premier Defense Group
Call us at (800) 993-0632 for a free legal consultation. We’re here for you 24 hours a day. We know how important your case is, and we want to protect you from the very outset.