by Benjamin Griffitts, Senior Attorney
It would be tough to think of a classification of criminal acts that stir up as much emotion and strong feelings as those in the sex crimes category. Homicides are clearly horrible and tragic for the loss of life and the emptiness that a deceased person leaves behind in their survivors. So while sexual assault cases in themselves do not result in a loss of a physical life, it is commonly thought that sex crimes are homicides of the soul and spirit.
It is also the one category of criminal acts that I hear so often from colleagues in the defense bar that they are just unwilling to take such cases. I understand the feeling. In a business that seems so often cold and shallow, it is difficult to separate your own emotions and feelings when you are faced with representing a defendant who is accused of doing something to someone that you experienced yourself or that someone close to you experienced; or someone is accused of doing something to a child, and you have a child of a similar age, or a niece or nephew. Attorneys are not robots. At the same time, our justice system fails if we decide that due process and Constitutional rights do not extend to those accused of committing the most horrific crimes. So we at Robinson Law do take on these cases.
There are two major categories of sex crimes: sexual assaults against a person and crimes against morals or decency. Sexual assaults against a person include rape, sodomy, carnal knowledge, object penetration, sexual battery, and indecent liberties. Crimes against morals and decency include prostitution, child pornography, and electronic solicitation of a minor. These are not exhaustive lists.
With respect to crimes against a person, there are two major factors to review as to whether a sexual act becomes a crime: consent and age. Consent is the ability of both parties to agree to participate in a sexual activity. While use of force is the most common way to overcome consent for a sexual act, incapacity, such as due to consumption of drugs or alcohol or mental disability, can also override a person’s ability to consent to a sexual act. Age can also override consent. Committing a sexual act with a person under the age of 18 carries differing levels of criminal liability for the offender, until under the age of 13 where there is no ability to consent for any sexual act whatsoever. The age gap between the accused and the alleged victim can also lead to increased potential punishments, up to the possibility of mandatory life sentences.
Crimes against morals and decency do not often involve violence or use of force (with some exceptions such as sex trafficking), but deal with inappropriate sexual relationships like profiting from sexual acts (prostitution or pimping charges), adults seeking to engage in sexual acts with a minor (indecent liberties, computer solicitation), or adults viewing illicit imagery of minors (child pornography).
Regardless of the nature of the offense, sex crimes are treated with extreme care and caution by law enforcement and prosecutors. It is not often where a law enforcement officer is able to first-hand witness an illegal act and make an immediate arrest or take a complaint and swiftly move to arrest. Generally, after a complaint is made, a thorough investigation begins. The alleged victim may be interviewed multiple times; a variety of search warrants may be executed, and evidence gets collected from multiple locations and sources. The accused is often contacted—sometimes directly by law enforcement, sometimes by the alleged victim in a monitored recorded conversation. Law enforcement and prosecutors know how sensitive these cases are for the victim, and they also know how impactful they are for the accused as well. In my experience, the goal is to try and get it right before making it public with the filing of charges.
It is one thing to lawyer up after you’ve been accused of a sex offense. That likely goes without saying. You want to have a lawyer that has experience taking on these kinds of cases. As I mentioned at the beginning, not every licensed attorney wants to take on cases of this nature, but you also want to find attorneys with specific experience who are willing to handle these cases. In many cases, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, there just is no evidence. It is one person’s word against another’s. Sometimes the evidence can be extremely technical—medical examinations, or cell phone tower or internet address hits. You need an attorney with the ability to understand technical evidence, but with the flexibility to defend you when no evidence exists.
But it is another thing to recognize the need to lawyer up when you don’t fully grasp the nature of what is happening. You might hear rumors on campus that you’re being accused of taking advantage of someone after a party. You might hear whispers from your extended family that someone is alleging you did something. Or you might receive a vague and innocent sounding message from a law enforcement officer just wanting to have a conversation with you. You will want to find a lawyer who understands that the investigation begins well before your charge and can guide and advise you on what to say and do in these scenarios, and more importantly, what not to say and what not to do.
If you have been charged with a sex crime, or you think you are being investigated regarding one, the experienced attorneys and Robinson Law are ready to assist you.