Two years after the alleged incident occurred, a Columbus man pleaded guilty to aggravated child molestation.
Prosecutors charged the 44-year-old man with two counts of aggravated child molestation and two counts of sodomy. He pleaded guilty to the two counts of aggravated child molestation and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. He will be required to register as a sex offender following his release.
Investigations in Child Sex Abuse Cases
Lengthy investigations and prosecutions are very common in child sex abuse cases. These matters have more separate components than many other criminal investigations and prosecutions. If all components don’t properly work together, a Marietta criminal defense attorney usually has grounds for a procedural or substantive defense. More on that below.
This process usually begins with a child’s abuse outcry. The outcry is usually reliable. Very few children fabricate sex abuse allegations. The identification, which comes next, is different.
Most children immediately identify the alleged abuser. This person is usually a parent, teacher, relative, neighbor, or another trusted adult who entices the child into a one-on-one situation and does something inappropriate.
Other children pick suspects out of live or photo lineups. Normally, such lineups are single blind. The child doesn’t know the suspect’s identity, but the administering officer knows. Therefore, the administering officer gives the witness subtle clues, or sometimes not-so-subtle clues. For instance, if a child looks at a photo lineup, the administering officer might place the suspect’s photo in the middle or otherwise steer the witness to the desired suspect.
In 1998, a leading researcher suggested that police departments conduct double-blind lineups (neither the witness nor the officer knows the suspect’s identity) to improve accuracy rates. Most law enforcement agencies ignored this advice. Fifteen years later, fewer than 8 percent of law enforcement agencies conducted double-blind lineups. In other words, in most cases, “getting the bad guy” is more important than being fair.
Incidentally, under the Fifth Amendment, suspects may refuse to appear in live lineups or pose for pictures. Such a refusal almost always means an arrest. But an arrest was probably inevitable at that point, especially if investigators planned to use a single-blind lineup. And, a refusal weakens the evidence, making it easier for a Marietta criminal defense lawyer to successfully resolve the matter.
The Sixth Amendment contains a grand jury indictment requirement. In the 18th century, grand juries were buffers that protected citizens, but today, that grand jury indictment rate is over 99 percent.
Next, a judge issues an arrest warrant, if the state shows probable cause. Grand jury indictments, even though they are rubber stamps, legally constitute probable cause. An affidavit which relies on a child’s outcry and identification usually constitutes probable cause. However, in some cases, an investigator or parent has clearly steered the child toward a certain suspect. The arrest might be invalid in these cases, or a Marietta criminal defense attorney might have a procedural defense to use at trial. More on that below.
Due to the severity of the offense, immediate jail release is usually unavailable in child sex abuse cases. So, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer must schedule a bond reduction hearing, where a judge considers many other factors, including the defendant’s:
- Ability to flee the jurisdiction,
- Contacts with the community, and
- Ability to pay bail.
The Eighth Amendment, another provision in the Bill of Rights, guarantees reasonable bail in criminal cases.
For the next step, retaining a lawyer, we go back to the Sixth Amendment. This provision guarantees the right to an attorney, but it doesn’t guarantee the right to a free attorney. Generally, if the defendant is out of jail on bond, a judge won’t assign a public defender or court-appointed attorney to a case.
That may not be such a bad thing. Most of these attorneys are top-notch defense lawyers with considerable experience. But others are fresh out of law school.
Because the investigation process is so long and has so many moving parts, various procedural and substantive defenses are usually available.
We mentioned one possible procedural defense, Fifth Amendment violations, above. If officers don’t properly Mirandize defendants, any evidence they obtain as a result of the illegal interrogation is inadmissible in court.
The Supreme Court recently threw a monkey wrench into this process. In 2010, the Supremes ruled that defendants must affirmatively assert their Fifth Amendment rights to preserve them. Simply refusing to answer questions or appear in a lineup constitutes a waiver of Fifth Amendment rights.
We mentioned arrest warrant issues as well. The same basic provisions apply to search warrants. These issues loom large in possession cases, like possession of illegal pornography. For example, if officers suspect that Ray has child pornography on his phone or computer, they generally need a search warrant or his consent. Ray doesn’t have to give the cops his password.
Once again, if Ray refuses to comply, he’ll almost certainly wind up in a jail cell. But that was probably his fate anyway, and prosecutors don’t have additional evidence to use against him in court.
Substantive defenses usually hinge on the burden of proof in a criminal case, which is beyond all reasonable doubt. Let’s go back to the child’s outcry. Children frequently embellish the details, so adults listen to them. That embellishment could affect a child’s credibility on the witness stand.
Collateral Consequences of Sex Abuse Convictions
These consequences include social and economic consequences. Most people believe that sex offenders are homogenous. In other words, a child rapist is just as bad as a flasher. Additionally, court supervision rules in sex offender cases usually limit job opportunities. Furthermore, most employers don’t want to hire convicted sex offenders, once again because of the social stigma.
Registration requirements depend on the offender’s evaluation and classification. Level 1 offenders (low risk of re-offense) must register on a government list and may petition for removal zs soon as their sentences end. Level 2 offenders (moderate re-offense risk) must register on a public list and may petition for removal ten years after their sentences end. Level 3 offenders (sexual predators) must publicly register for life.
A Marietta criminal defense lawyer often advocates for defendants during the evaluation and classification process. Furthermore, an attorney can sometimes reduce a Level 2 classification to a Level 1 rating.
A sex offense investigation and prosecution is a very long process. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.