Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

In a recent California sexual assault case before a state appeals court, the court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted expert testimony from a doctor who testified that only a very small percentage of child sexual abuse allegations are false. The defendant in the case was charged with 12 counts of lewd acts against a child younger than 14 years old under Penal Code 288(b)(1), and one count of continuous sexual abuse under 14 under Penal Code 288.5(a).

The defendant’s first trial ended in a hung jury, but when he was subsequently retried for the same crimes he was convicted on all counts. He was sentenced to a total term of 104 years. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial judge improperly admitted expert testimony about child sexual abuse.

A trial court normally has significant discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude expert testimony. In child sexual abuse cases, state courts have generally held that expert testimony on rape trauma syndrome may be admissible in order to dispel misconceptions about rape and rape victims. It can explain, for example, why there was a delay in reporting the abuse. However, such testimony is not warranted in all cases. For example, in another case in which the victim reported the attack soon after it happened, and the victim had a severe emotional reaction, testimony about rape trauma syndrome did not serve the purpose of rebutting misconceptions and should not have been admitted.

In recent a California criminal case before a court of appeals, the court had to consider whether a minor defendant’s case was properly heard by an adult criminal court or whether the case should have been decided by a juvenile court. The defendant in the case was charged with sexual offenses that allegedly occurred when he was between 14 and 16 years old.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s case was first heard in juvenile court, but in November, 2015, the juvenile court transferred the case to adult criminal court. While in adult court, the defendant pleaded guilty to various crimes in March 2017, and agreed to a 40-year sentence in prison. However, before the defendant was sentenced, the defendant requested that the court transfer his case back to juvenile court under Proposition 57, which was passed after the defendant’s hearing in juvenile court. The adult court denied the request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision.

Juvenile courts in California generally have jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed when the defendant was under 18 years old. Proposition 57 was passed in November, 2016, and significantly amended the laws governing the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. Under the previous law, a minor accused of a crime was generally subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile court, unless the court found the minor unfit for juvenile court. For minors 14 years or older, there was a presumption that the defendant was unfit for the juvenile court system.

In a recent California criminal case before a California court of appeals, the court had to decide whether a prosecutor’s office could subpoena and use an alleged sexually violent predator’s confidential medical records in a proceeding under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

According to the court’s opinion, back in the 1980s, a jury found the defendant guilty of child sex offenses and sentenced him to a total of 23 years in prison. Before he was released, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed a sexually violent predator (SVP) petition. In 2009, a jury found the defendant was a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be civilly committed to a state hospital. The defendant filed a petition for unconditional discharge or for conditional release. The district attorney’s office subsequently served a subpoena on the hospital to obtain the defendant’s medical records. The defendant filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that the prosecutor’s office could not subpoena his confidential medical records.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) allows an individual to be civilly committed for an indefinite term if a jury finds the individual to be a sexually violent predator beyond a reasonable doubt. Under section 6600 of the Act, a SVP is defined as a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against at least one person and who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder “that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.” An alleged SVP has the right to a jury trial, to the representation of counsel, to retain experts, and to access relevant medical records and reports. Under section 6603(j), a medical evaluator must include a statement of all records the evaluator reviewed, and the parties can request a copy of those records.

Criminal cases are supposed to be about the pursuit of truth. However, over the years, courts have routinely caught prosecutors trying to hide evidence from defendants. Most often, this is evidence that is favorable to the defense and would have been harmful to the prosecution’s case had the defense been provided the evidence.

Discovery is the process by which the parties exchange evidence that they plan to use at trial. Given the concerns mentioned above, in a 1964 case, the United States Supreme Court created some basic rules requiring the prosecution to provide certain discovery to the defense in all criminal cases. These rules have been embodied in the current version of the California Penal Code. For example, under California Penal Code section 1054.1, the prosecution must disclose:

  • the names and address of all witnesses it plans to call at trial;
  • all statements made by the defendant;
  • all relevant real evidence;
  • whether any material witness for the prosecution has a felony conviction; and
  • the written or recorded statements of witness the prosecution plans to use at trial.

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The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all defendants facing criminal prosecution the right to confront their accusers. Confrontation affords a defendant the opportunity to cross-examine the witness and potentially reveal any bias or other weakness in the witness’ testimony. Typically, courts require that this confrontation be face-to-face, meaning that the witness must testify at the defendant’s trial. Through live testimony, a jury is best able to assess a witness’ demeanor and credibility, assisting the jury in determining whether the witness’ testimony is credible.

Face-to-face confrontation requires a witness to face the subject of their allegations. Naturally, this will make some witnesses nervous. Indeed, a witness’ nervousness is a key factor in assessing their credibility. However, California lawmakers have developed several exceptions to the general rule requiring face-to-face confrontation when the allegations involve specific California crimes allegedly committed against children.

Under California Penal Code section 1347, a court can permit the minor to testify via two-way closed-circuit television in certain limited situations when the defendant is charged with a “violent felony offense.” The statute provides some examples of what constitutes a violent felony offense, including:

  • rape,
  • sodomy,
  • oral copulation,
  • lewd or lascivious acts,
  • certain child abuse offenses,
  • robbery,
  • carjacking,
  • kidnapping, and
  • arson.

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The issue of consent arises very frequently in California sexual assault cases. However, under the California Rape Shield Law, a defendant who is charged with sexual assault may have a difficult time establishing that his encounter with the complaining witness was consensual.

What Is a Rape Shield Law?

Rape shield laws refer to a series of rules of evidence that prevent defendants charged with certain crimes from bringing up evidence of the alleged victim’s sexual past. In California, the rape shield law is contained in California Evidence Code 1103, and applies to the following cases:

  • Penal Code 261: Rape
  • Penal Code 262: Spousal/marital rape
  • Penal Code 264.1: Rape in concert
  • Penal Code 286: Sodomy
  • Penal Code 288(a): Oral copulation by force; and
  • Penal Code 289: Forcible penetration by a foreign object.

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If currently expressed sentiments in the Trump presidential administration regarding college campus sex-crimes policies and procedures take the shape of new standards and legal imperatives, says one Obama-era official, the United States will be taken back to the days “when colleges swept sexual assault under the rug.”

That is emphatically untrue, counters one advocate for individuals accused of campus-based sex crimes. He states that opinions expressed recently by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are “being secretly cheered by every university general counsel in the country.”

DeVos’s comments made earlier this month manifestly signal a strong discontent in the current administration with the way that allegations of sexual misconduct are routinely being handled on campuses across the country.

O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing garnered national headlines this week. Indeed, some may believe that he is still receiving unfair celebrity treatment for simply being granted a hearing. This sentiment arguably spilled over when the commissioners voted unanimously to grant parole.

In the midst of this news, former speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was recently released from federal prison. Hastert was sentenced to a 15 month sentence for bank fraud stemming from his actions in making patterns of payments to avoid federal reporting requirements. Hastert was initially investigated for making more than $900,000 in small withdrawals across a number of his personal accounts to avoid federal scrutiny. 

Making matters worse, it was later revealed that the payments were to secure continued silence from a sexual abuse victim. During his sentencing for the bank fraud charge, Hastert tacitly admitted that he sexually abused male wrestlers at Yorkville High School in his native Illinois where he worked from 1965 to 1981 before he started in politics. He was not charged for these actions, but the court noted that he was a “serial child molester,” and that “some actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works.”

Little did a man know that the real fireworks central to a 4th of July evening he spent with friends and a newly introduced woman on a city rooftop would commence months later with a knock on his door at home.

It was the cops. He left the house with them — in handcuffs and under arrest for a sexual assault on that woman.

In fact, he was charged on a criminal count of felony rape and was under the reasonable assumption, based on what police officials told him, that he could be spending the rest of his life incarcerated.

It happens.

Every day in California and across the United States, and for a multitude of reasons, an accusation of criminal conduct is made against an individual who is actually innocent of any wrongdoing.

Sometimes an allegation proceeds from error, with a complainant making a mistake in identification, for example, or materially misreading the key facts of a matter.

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