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 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.
Technical Defenses for Sex Crime 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
Of particular significance in probing whether the sexual conduct was consensual, the following questions can be relevant:
1) Was there continued phone activity between the couple after the alleged assault?
2) Were there any text messages, emails or social media posts that would indicate an assault had occurred?
3) Are there any photos that were taken after the alleged assault that would indicate the absence of an assault?
4) Are there any witnesses who observed a demeanor, after the alleged assault, of the complainant that would indicate an assault had not occurred?
5) Are there any witnesses to whom the complainant, after the alleged assault, made statements that might be exculpatory?
6) Is there evidence that the couple met again after the alleged assault?
7) Is there evidence that the couple previously had consensual sexual relations?
8) Did the complainant seek a medical exam after the alleged assault?
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.
Financial Incentive. A false sexual assault accusation can be a way for a person to extort money from another person. 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.
Of particular significance in probing whether the allegations were motivated by this scenario, the following questions can be relevant:
1) Is the complainant financially unstable or is there evidence that he or she would be in the near future?
2) Is there evidence that the complainant was aware of the accused’s financial status?
3) Is there evidence that the complainant has or intends to file a civil lawsuit against the accused?
4) Is there evidence of nefarious intent in any emails, texts or social media posts?
5) Has the complainant previously made allegations against anyone else?
6) Is there evidence as is described in the above section: “Lying About Consensual Sex?”
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.
Of particular significance in probing whether the allegations were motivated by this scenario, the following questions can be explored:
1) Is there evidence that the relationship or marriage was failing before the allegations were made?
2) Was there an attempt(s) to end the relationship prior to the allegations?
3) Is there evidence of infidelity by either parent that would motivate the complaining parent to fabricate allegations?
4) Was there any unusual behavior or statements made by the child preceding the allegations that would indicate the complainant was “coaching” the child?
5) Were there any heated arguments during which one parent threatened the other?
6) Would there be a financial advantage for the complainant to falsely accuse the other parent?
Defending Against False Allegations by Children and Teens
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 proven reasons why such children have and may make false claims.
Some allegations 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 they 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. 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.
Although the motive or reason for an alleged child victim to have fabricated allegations is not always evident, Tom underscores at trial every piece of evidence that raises reasonable doubt and gives rise to alternative explanations as to why the allegations might have arisen.
At times, however, if Tom believes that a child complainant is the victim of “taint,” he will hire a forensic psychologist to review the pre-trial evidence, and will request a “taint hearing.” At times, a successful taint hearing can lead to the case being dismissed.
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.