DEFENDING CHILD SEX CRIMES
March 2, 2010
During my six years as a prosecutor in Pinellas County, I investigated, prosecuted, and tried numerous cases involving child sex crimes and related offenses. During that time, I received specialized training and practical experience in interviewing child witnesses and witnesses of child sex crimes; and in gathering evidence for the purpose of building a case to present to a jury. I learned from the ground up how law enforcement and the prosecution build their cases against criminal defendants. As a criminal defense attorney, I am able to use that knowledge and experience to help defend people charged with SEX OFFENSES WITH MINORS.
Sex Crimes Are Difficult to Prosecute
The prosecution of child sex crimes is often a difficult task for various reasons. First, once a case is initially brought to the attention of law enforcement, just getting the testimony from the alleged victim can be a difficult task. Often times, the alleged victim is either unwilling to come forward with information perhaps because the alleged suspect is a family member or if in the case of a very young minor, they may be unable to testify because if their age. From the prosecutor’s perspective, child witnesses must be questioned in a way that cannot later leave them open to suggestions and arguments from the defense that words were put into their mouth. Another concern that the prosecutor may have is the fact that frequently, the alleged victim’s version of what happened is not consistent over time as told to different people. Once there are inconsistent statements, this makes the task of the prosecutor that much more difficult. A good defense attorney will be able to point out and/or highlight these inconsistencies to the prosecutor and/or ultimately to a jury. Another difficulty in building a child sex case is the fact that many times the alleged victim may have a motive to lie or some bias against the alleged suspect. For example, I have dealt with cases which involve alleged victims in the middle of a contested divorce or perhaps the alleged victim is not happy with the fact that the alleged suspect is dating their parent. Motives to lie or not give truthful testimony can often pose huge road blocks for the prosecutor and end up being used by the defense to ague that there is reasonable doubt.
Corroboration of Victim Testimony through Physical Evidence
Unlike what you see on television regarding DNA, child sex crimes cases frequently lack physical evidence. The reasons for a lack of physical evidence may vary. The alleged crime may have occurred years ago. The alleged act itself may not lend itself to yielding physical evidence such as if the alleged suspect was fondling the breasts of the alleged victim. As a result, more often then not, these types of crimes are a “he said, she said.” Once the case is brought to the attention of law enforcement, and it is apparent that there is no physical evidence, in order to build a case, the prosecutor and law enforcement may attempt to obtain additional evidence to corroborate the crime. This type of evidence may be obtained through investigative tools such as a search warrant. Perhaps the alleged victim and the alleged suspect were strangers to each other and the alleged victim can describe the bed spread in the alleged suspect’s bedroom. Perhaps the alleged suspect has some sort of unique markings, scars, or tattoos on their body. Another very useful tool used by law enforcement is the controlled phone call. The investigation may have started with law enforcement and the alleged suspect may have no idea that he is being investigated. The alleged victim or a family member may call the alleged suspect in an attempt to elicit some type of admission to the crime while law enforcement is taping it. This type of evidence is particularly useful especially in the case of a crime that is alleged to have occurred many years ago. If the alleged suspect admits he did something wrong to the alleged victim, this is powerful evidence. In this day modern day of communication technology, law enforcement may attempt to gather corroborative evidence in the form of text messages, emails, or Facebook posts. Finally, it is not unusual for law enforcement to simply contact the alleged suspect himself and interview him to obtain admissions or a confession (Please see my blog post November 19, 2009, You Have the Right to Remain Silent . . . USE IT!) Interviews of a criminal suspect are areas where a criminal defense attorney can attack the prosecution’s case in the form of a motion to suppress because the criminal suspect’s rights were violated by law enforcement; or there was some other type of procedural defect in the interview process. These types of investigative tools used by law enforcement are the exact reason why it is imperative for someone that believes they are or may be investigated for a sex crime to seek legal counsel as early as possible. One wrong move on the part of an alleged suspect can give law enforcement all the evidence they need to gain a conviction.
You Find Out You Are a Suspect in a Child Sex Crime: What Do You Do?
You should seek out you legal counsel as soon as you are aware that you are being investigated. I cannot stress how important it is to seek legal counsel as early as possible in any criminal case. However, the stakes can be extremely high if you are going to be charged in a child sex crime. I understand that legal fees can be expensive. I have also heard people say that they would just wait and see what would happen first before they hire a lawyer. But usually that strategy ultimately makes your attorney’s job much more difficult. By the time an attorney is retained; a great deal of damage may have already been done to potential defenses you may have to the crime charged.
Sentencing and Sex Crimes
The majority of sex crimes charges encompass a variety of possible sentences depending on the ages of the alleged offender and victim and the alleged conduct involved. Under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, charges involving sex crimes usually involve the imposition of prison sentences ranging from a term of years in prison up to life. In addition to the possibility of incarceration, Florida Law mandates that certain sex crimes sentences carry very stringent statutory conditions, restrictions and designations such as a sex offender or a sex predator. Of course every criminal case is unique unto itself. However, it may be possible to defend and/or resolve your case without a prison sentence or without the imposition of the harsh sex crimes designations. Your attorney will evaluate your case and may look to some of the issues discussed above regarding problems that the State’s case may have. Other issues that your attorney may be able to address are whether there is a basis to depart below the Florida Sentencing Guidelines in order to avoid a prison sentence. Based on a weakness in the State’s case are they willing to negotiate a plea? Do the victim’s parents not want their child to go through the litigation process? Does the alleged offender qualify under the Romeo & Juliet Law in Florida (Please see my blog post January 28, 2010, Florida’s Romeo & Juliet Law).
My time as a prosecutor prepared me to defend clients charged with sex crimes. My experience taught me that these cases are frequently very difficult to prosecute. Retaining counsel as early as possible is imperative if you are a suspect in a criminal sex crimes case. Difficulties and deficiencies experienced by the prosecutor and law enforcement can be used to the benefit of the criminal defendant in both the determination of guilt and sentencing phases of the criminal prosecution.