What Drove You To Begin Defending People Who Have Been Accused Of Sex Offenses?
Many people go to law school without knowing what area of law they want to practice, or what type of cases they want to handle. They might have an idea of the general area of law they want to practice, but specialties frequently find us, instead of us searching them out. I think most of us fall into specialty areas by accident. A lawyer will have some success handling a certain type of case, so they might take on more and more of those cases. This leads to a rapid increase in similar cases – often on a logarithmic scale, (one case becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes 16, and so on).
I never specifically sought out sexual assault cases, and certainly not child sexual assault cases. I handled some sex crime cases as a prosecutor, and excelled at them. So it felt natural to do more of them. I’d say the area found me more than I found it.
One day, I had something like an epiphany; a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that sexual assault cases are different from any other type of criminal case. Frequently they are a combination of factors which result in the “perfect storm” type of offense, and require a vastly different approach, whether on the prosecution or defense side.
Not many people will ever be accused of murder, bank robbery, carjacking, or complex financial fraud. However, anyone can be accused of sexual assault, and anyone can be a victim of it. It very uncommon for a person to get shot, be involved in a carjacking, or be the victim of some random, violent crime; it is much more common for a person to be accused of committing a sexual offense, or to be the victim of a sexual offense.
There But For The Grace Of God, Go I
The defendants and the victims of sexual assault come from all walks of life. There is such an element of “There but for the grace of God, go I” to everyone accused of this crime, as well as every victim of it. Anyone can find themselves in a situation which leads to a being involved in a sexual assault, or an allegation of one. Often the difference between a true report and a false allegation of sexual assault is a question of perspective. For example, a woman might claim that she got drunk at a bar and get taken advantage of by a man; however, the man may claim that he and the woman left the bar together and had consensual sex, only for the woman to end up with “buyer’s remorse” and claim that she never consented.
In the deep, dark recesses of our mind, we all understand that any one of us could become a victim of sexual assault, or be accused of a sexual assault allegation. For that reason, we tend to over-vilify it. A person is better off being accused of killing someone than rubbing their 18-year-old niece’s vagina, and it is because we are all afraid of being accused of it someday.
The Theme And Theory Of A Sexual Offense Case
Developing theme and theory is part of every sexual assault case defense. After 25 years of experience in both prosecuting and defending hundreds of sexual offense cases, I can say with confidence that the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard is not a theory of a defense in a sex crime case, not in the way it is in nearly every other type of criminal case.
For example, let us take a bank robbery case. Assume that the prosecution accuses the defendant of robbing a bank, but fails to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury might believe the defendant is probably guilty, but at the same time would be able to identify that the prosecutor has failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In most cases, juries are okay with this, but when it comes to sexual offense cases, this doesn’t happen. The jurors need to be able to go home to their neighbors and face them, and explain their decision. A neighbor might say something to the juror like, “Hey, I know you were on jury duty yesterday for a child molestation case. The defendant was accused of sexually molesting his niece; that’s awful and disgusting. What happened?” If the juror says they found the defendant guilty, the neighbor’s response will be, “Good, the guy is a child molester. He deserved it.!”
In the case of a not guilty verdict, no juror is going to say, “I think the guy was guilty, but I also didn’t believe the prosecutor proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, we found him not guilty” If the defendant of a sexual offense case is found not guilty, the only “acceptable” response for the juror would be to say that “Look neighbor. I do not think the guy did it, I think he is innocent. It was a false allegation.”
In defending these cases, this is my number 1 philosophy. My starting point. Beyond a reasonable doubt is not a theory of defense in sex cases. And I believe, 100%, that is why I have been extremely successful. I understand that there is only one way to get someone acquitted of these cases, which is by convincing everyone, including the police, the prosecutor, the judge, the court staff, the clerk, the bailiff, and the jury, that the defendant is factually innocent—not innocent on a technicality, or “not guilty” simply because the prosecutor could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone must believe that the defendant has been falsely accused, and that is the single most important, main reason, why these cases are so different from other criminal cases.
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