Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

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.

When prosecutors bring forward DNA evidence, they typically argue that these tests are extremely accurate. They often claim, although there is some debate over this, that it would be a one in a billion chance for someone to have identical DNA test results to those of the accused. They push back on defense questioning about possible errors in the collection or testing of the evidence.

All in all, it’s very hard to argue against DNA. When you can tie a suspect’s chromosomes to a crime scene, it’s extremely difficult to claim he wasn’t there. But is that enough?

A Denver man was recently accused of a sex crime based on DNA evidence. Along with several friends he had been to a Fourth of July rooftop party at a woman’s residence. Tragically, the woman apparently passed out at that party. When she awoke the next day, she realized something was terribly wrong. Her panties had been removed, she had vaginal pain, and she did not know what had happened.

Many people strongly believed that legislative changes would follow in the wake of the massively reported sex crimes case of an ex-Stanford student athlete that recently culminated in his release from custody after a three-month incarceration period.

The sentencing judge in the case was roundly excoriated in the media and ultimately removed from criminal cases.

The court’s ruling “was unjustifiable and morally wrong, however, under current state law it was within his discretion,” stated one California Assembly member recently.

The following account of a sex-crimes investigation and trial might unnerve some readers, but not for reasons they might immediately assume.

And, in reading today’s post, many of our readers might be surprised and dismayed by some of its material facts.

Those facts are fundamentally sad, because they point to injustice in what is termed the criminal “justice” sphere and also to the slippery slope that prevails when the public loses confidence in the integrity of law enforcement and criminal investigations.

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