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 explore both technical defenses as well as holistic defenses that can illustrate the lack of 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.
Technical Defenses for Sex Crimes Charges
Charges Must be Filed Within the Statute of Limitations Period
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.
Each jurisdiction has its own SOL laws that establishes when the “clock” starts, pauses and if applicable, ends. If it is determined that the prosecuting attorney’s office is attempting to prosecute a client in violation of the statute of limitations for the offenses, our Group lawyers will file a motion to have the charges dismissed. (See Court Martial, 2018 in our case results.)
All Elements of a Sexual Offense Must Be Proven
Although the names of sexual offenses vary by state (e.g., rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse), such offenses generally prohibit sexual conduct based upon the ages of individuals involved, and/or based upon the lack of consent by a person involved. Prohibited conduct can include touching (under or over clothing), sexual penetration by a finger or object, and sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral and anal).
What does not vary, however, is that each offense has specific elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Such elements can include penetration, sexual gratification, lascivious intent, lack of consent, force and others. Each sex offense in any given state has a unique set of elements that distinguish it from every other offense.
Our Group lawyers always have a deep understanding of each element that must be proven by the prosecution, and methodically cast doubt upon these elements at every available opportunity during trial. At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case in chief, if Tom believes that any of these elements have not been proven, he will move for a dismissal of the applicable offense(s). (See Texas v. C.D., 2014, Case results).
A Holistic Approach for Sex Crimes Charges
Physical evidence, e.g., DNA, semen, or bruising is often not available in cases where a) the allegations were made years after the alleged conduct, b) the alleged conduct does not involve penetration or the use of force, and of course, c) the allegations are false. It’s important to realize that were such “corroborating” evidence available, this would not unconditionally mean that the allegations were true, and instead would give defense counsel an opportunity to analyze it and use it to discredit the allegations.
In such cases, the defendant’s counsel is effectively tasked with proving something did not happen using very limited “evidence.” The judge or jury is presented with the statements of the complainant and the statements of the alleged perpetrator, and is tasked with determining whose version of events is more credible. Therefore, the overarching goal of the defendant’s counsel is to discredit the complainant’s version of events, and build the credibility of the defendant’s version of events.
Creating Reasonable Doubt by Discrediting the Statements of the Complainant
Before beginning any trial, Tom and the client’s Group co-counsel lawyer meticulously inventory every statement previously given by the complainant and his or her witnesses. Therefore, they are able to recognize and explore during trial any remarks made by the complainant that are inconsistent with or contradictory to prior statements.
Equally important, they also capitalize on statements about events that can be shown to be implausible, or even impossible. Testimony that generates these types of unreliable statements can be (and should be) inferred by the jury as being testimony that is inconsistent with what would be expected from a person who is telling the truth.
Creating Reasonable Doubt by Establishing Accuser Motivation
The motivation of an accuser is highly relevant and can create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors. Proper pre-trial investigation of the accuser’s background as well as the circumstances under which the allegations were made can uncover facts that give rise to motivation.
Below are several motives for individuals to make false claims of sexual assault, which may explain the reasoning behind the allegations against you.
1 Embarrassment or Shame. Despite being involved in a consensual sexual encounter, a person may make a false allegation of sexual assault in order to cover up the fact that he or she willfully participated. For example, was the encounter with a married person, a friend’s mate, a person of questionable character, a supervisor or fellow worker, or with any other person which would create a scenario where the complainant could be negatively impacted?
2 Revenge or Contempt. A person may falsely accused another person in an effort to seek revenge, or because the complainant has developed contempt for a person. For example, did a person humiliate, embarrass, physically or mentally hurt, disrespect, spread rumors about, or dismiss the advances of the complainant? Such retaliatory accusations can spawn from anger, dissatisfaction or hurt feelings, and are made maliciously or vindictively in effort to harm the accused.
3 Financial Incentive. A false sexual assault accusation can be a way for a person to extort money from another person. Generally, these schemes are intended to end without the involvement of law enforcement, but at times this inadvertently happens. Celebrities are not the only targets of these schemes – they can arise in any situation where the complainant believes the victim has little choice but to comply with his or her financial demands. A classic example of this scenario is extortion associated with extramarital affairs.
4 Divorce and Child Custody Disputes. A parent may falsely accuse his or her spouse or partner of having sexually molested one or more of their children in order to gain an advantage in family court. Such false charges can arise during divorce and custody cases. This phenomenon is so prevalent that a Google search for “divorce false allegations of sexual abuse” will reveal numerous articles, scientific research and even books that are dedicated to this topic.
Use of Expert Witnesses
Expert witness testify about facts and areas of the law that are beyond the knowledge of jurors. It is easy to see that they include doctors and DNA scientists, for example. There are other experts who can make the difference in defending sex abuse cases.
These are forensic psychologists who can analyze video-taped statements give by children to law enforcement to testify about influence and suggestion. This is an evolving area of the law that now, more than ever, mandates building these experts into the defense’s presentation.
Defending Against False Allegations Made by Minors
Teenagers may falsely accuse a person of sexual assault as a result of drug and alcohol abuse; mental illness; disdain for a stepparent or live-in boyfriend; and revenge. With young children, however, the dynamic is a little different.
An allegation by a child can begin as a result of a child’s disclosing an event where nothing inappropriate actually occurred. However, due to a child’s inability to sometimes accurately describe the events that took place, a vigilant parent may immediately make a rush to judgment and assume the child had been sexually abused. Upon disclosing the events to the best of the child’s ability, parents or other adults will naturally begin to ask questions, which can give rise to “taint.”
“Taint” can occur when children are subjected to biased and/or suggestive interviews (see Tom’s case, Com. v. Delbridge, 885 A.2d 27 (Pa.2003)). 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 give the answers that they feel the adults want to hear, and even can build false memories about events that did not actually occur.
If Tom believes that a child complainant is the victim of “taint,” he will enlist the help of a forensic psychologist to review the pre-trial evidence, and will request a “taint hearing.” At times, a successful taint hearing can lead to a case being dismissed as it did in our three cases show below:
Contact Premier Defense Group
If you feel the above discussion is relevant to your case and would like to consult with Tom, please 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.