In this series, we will be exploring all stages of a sexual assault allegation from beginning to end.
PART I – If you think divorce is tough, what if you are accused of a sex crime?
In Part I, we focus on our holistic approach to pre-indictment sexual assault allegations defense – What happens before you are actually charged with a Sex Crime?
You’re a single man in your 40’s. You’re divorced and have shared parenting with your ex-wife. You’ve worked hard all your life to get your degree, climb the career ladder, and provide for your family, but that time commitment to the job didn’t work out so well for your relationship, and when you’re blindsided by divorce it sweeps your legs out from under you. It eats up your savings, you lose your house, half of your retirement, and maybe even your dog.
It can be devastating, but you pick yourself up and get back to work. After all, you’ve got child support and alimony and to pay. The spousal support may hurt your wallet but providing for your kids is something you take pride in, so paying off those college loans will have to wait.
When you don’t have your kids, you pour yourself into your job, but it’s lonely. You try online dating in what little time-off you make for yourself and maybe you meet your friends out to try the dating scene. Women seem to be interested in a successful guy like yourself, so you start thinking, “Maybe this isn’t so bad,” and you date for a while.
One Saturday morning, as you finish showering before rushing off to your kid’s soccer game, there’s a loud knock at the door. The doorbell rings again and again, and the knocks get louder as you dry off and get the towel around yourself. “It’s the police – open up! We have a search warrant!”
You’re a law-abiding citizen, so you open the door. They show the warrant and take your stuff – lots of stuff. They empty and seize your trash, medicine cabinet, even your bed sheets. If you’re lucky, they may toss you your clothes from the bathroom floor. You try to put them on, but it’s hard when you are shaking from utter disbelief. “We need you to come down to the police station to answer some questions.” You’re in shock!
You may not realize or believe it at the time, but you are in the beginning stages of being charged with a sex crime. If you think the divorce was tough, things are about to get a whole lot tougher. If you don’t take the right steps immediately, you could lose much more than your ability to pay your college loans and your dog. Search warrants are not issued unless it’s serious, and police do not call you to the station to have coffee and chat about your kid’s soccer game regardless of how they phrase it or your previous relationship/lack of relationship with them.
There are many stages in facing potential sex crime charges – the accusation, the police report, the investigation – which may involve a search warrant as in the above story, police questioning, arrest, and jail time. All these can occur before you are indicted on the charge/s. Do not leave it to the police to work it all out, and do not lose your mind. Today we will focus on a holistic approach to pre-indictment sexual assault allegations defense.
Since a search of your property may come as a complete surprise (Advanced knowledge that an accusation has been made and that an investigation is at hand rarely occurs in the criminal process.), the most important thing you can do is ask to see the warrant and invoke your fifth amendment right to be silent. The police can and WILL attempt to question you while executing the search warrant.
Anything you say during that time, regardless of how casual, will be used against you in your case. After the search, and before going anywhere voluntarily, there is also plenty you can and should do. You don’t need to wait until you’re charged to hire a lawyer. There are so many collateral consequences of being convicted of a sexual assault crime or merely being accused of a sexual assault crime that addressing accusations of sexual misconduct early on the process is critically important.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By engaging an attorney early on in this process – as soon as you know an accusation has been made against you, a lot of harm can be prevented. Whether or not and how to provide a statement or submit to a polygraph are important questions. Whether to submit to a DNA swab or provide other physical specimen samples to the police can be key to determining whether charges are ever issued against the accused.
An attorney skilled at communication can convey the circumstances and evidence around your situation to the police investigation for you. Your accuser’s words carry no more weight than yours and providing the right information on behalf of the accused, has repeatedly resulted in no charges being issued against our clients. A knowledgeable sex crimes attorney can also engage in the process at both the law enforcement level and at the prosecutor’s office level. This can build trust that will go a long way towards your ability to fight the accusations from outside rather than inside of a jail cell. A holistic approach builds faith with the prosecutor’s office that you are going to show up in court and that you are not going to run. That credibility should be built throughout the process with the police, the prosecutors, the judge, and ultimately with the jury. In all these circumstances, the accused taking charge of that narrative in a legally informed and strategic way can be invaluable regardless of what direction the case takes.
You may be thinking it’s not a big deal because you’ve never been in trouble with the police before, but you do not want to try to work through the beginning stages alone. Even speaking to a detective for the first time can be extremely stressful and detrimental to your case if not guided correctly. A criminal accusation is a very, very big deal. You have legal rights during a police investigation that a lawyer might be able to protect. Until a criminal action is filed, no one is under any obligation to cooperate with a police officer. That means other family members have no obligation either.
Search warrants, as in the above case, can be issued on reasonable cause. If a warrant is in place, that’s your cue to retain an attorney as soon as possible. Our recommendation is that at your first contact with an authority figure questioning you about sexual misconduct, be that a supervisor at work, a police officer, or an official at school, you should immediately exercise your right to remain silent, and hire an attorney. Don’t be fooled into believing that if you tell the truth and cooperate, nothing bad will happen. If you have been accused of sexual misconduct, get an attorney and speak only through that attorney. Having somebody that’s going to take a reasoned, logical approach to getting your story told in such a way that it can be supported by evidence is critically important.
Holistic criminal defense is something that we coined. We saw time and time again that our clients were benefiting from our assistance in the courtroom. But they were benefiting almost equally through our assistance outside the courtroom by discussing their strengths and weaknesses, getting them connected with services, pointing them in the right direction, and keeping them motivated.
Support from family and friends may help through a divorce, but whether it is true or false, a sexual assault allegation of any kind requires much more. Every case is very different, and with the appropriate legal counsel monitoring and acting upon the factual circumstances, an indictment may never occur. It’s something that we are passionate about in our practice and something we advocate for strenuously.