Recently in Sex Crimes Category

January 18, 2014

U.S. v. Shepard - Ensuring Fairness in D.C. Sex Crime Trials

Principles of tolerance are routinely preached now from all sides, but it seems there is still one category of people it is still acceptable to openly hate: sex offenders.
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Indeed, not only is accepted, it's encouraged, and any suggestion that situations may not always be a clear black-and-white are met with open hostility. This makes mounting an effective sex crimes defense in D.C. a unique and extraordinary challenge.

This is no where more true than cases that involve children. As the case of United States v. Shepard reveals, ensuring fairness in these proceedings requires an aggressive defense.

Continue reading "U.S. v. Shepard - Ensuring Fairness in D.C. Sex Crime Trials" »

October 30, 2013

DNA Evidence in Sex Assault Case Doesn't Render It Unwinnable

Recently, the Baltimore Sun reported on a three-soon-to-be-four-times defendant in a series of rape trials.
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This defendant was acquitted of rape in his first three trials (all occurring within the last two years). He may well see the same outcome in the fourth. All of this is despite the fact that DNA evidence was uncovered in each case linking him to the scene and that each alleged victim had testified she never before met the defendant until he blindfolded, bound and attacked her.

D.C. sex crimes defense attorneys know that's exactly the kind of stacked evidence deck that prosecutors would use to strong-arm a defendant into pleading guilty even before trial. And yet, he chose to fight the charges - and he's thus far been successful.

Continue reading "DNA Evidence in Sex Assault Case Doesn't Render It Unwinnable" »

October 20, 2013

D.C. Sex Assault Cases Possibly Impacted by Government Shutdown

A key piece of evidence used against defendants in many D.C. sexual assault cases may soon be unavailable, if the government shutdown continues.
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A report from The Huffington Post indicates that so-called "rape kits," which are issued to any person suspected of being a victim of sexual assault when they arrive at the hospital for a physical examination, will no longer be available. The evidence collected with these kits is often considered key in either nailing down the perpetrator or, in some instances, eliminating certain suspects.

The kits allow investigators to examine samples of hair, blood, fluids, DNA and other physical elements collected from the body or clothing of the alleged victim in the immediate aftermath of an alleged rape.

Continue reading "D.C. Sex Assault Cases Possibly Impacted by Government Shutdown" »

July 15, 2013

Digital Forensics a Growing Field in D.C. Criminal Cases

A Virginia man was recently sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to third-degree sexual assault stemming from a gang rape incident that was recorded on the cell phone of one of the four alleged assailants.
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Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys are seeing a rising number of cases - sex crimes and otherwise - in which digital forensics such as this are becoming powerful evidence for the prosecution. In fact, absent the grainy cell phone video in this case, it would have been a difficult case to prosecute.

In the video, a reportedly intoxicated female is shown with her eyes drooping and speech slurred. She protests the sexual acts being inflicted upon her. In the beginning, she cries out sharply for help, but is quickly quieted by one of the men. She repeatedly tells them "no" and "that's not cool" and begs them to take their hands off her. The man who pleaded guilty can be seen flashing a gang sign as he holds the girl's face up for the camera while the two other men sexually assault her.

Prosecutors truly couldn't have asked for a better piece of evidence. And they might not have ever found it, had it not been for a report of a different sexual assault that was also apparently recorded on one of the cell phone of another of the accused.

Police never did find that video. However, in the course of searching for it, they found this one. Based on that, they were essentially able to build their entire case.

This is not the first time we have heard of such an incident, particularly in a sexual assault. You probably recall the recent gang rape case out of Ohio, in which a number of high school football players captured video of a sexual assault of a fellow student. That video was later used to convict two of the individuals depicted in the footage.

And just a few days ago, a 28-year-old soldier based in Tennessee was convicted in the rape of a six-year-old girl, which he had video-taped. That footage resulted in the additional charge of production of child pornography, for which he received 27.5 years in prison. The rape charge garnered another 50 years behind bars, which he will serve concurrently with the other sentence.

That case was revealed when the Department of Homeland Security received information that linked the soldier's e-mail address linking him to child pornography. He was deployed in Iraq as a medic when a search warrant was served at his base living quarters, where Army investigators discovered the video on his laptop.

It's expected that the field of digital forensics is only going to continue to expand. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that computer forensic jobs would grow an estimated 13 percent over the next several years, with a starting salary at about $50,000. The National Security Agency - which has been in the news recently after a leak revealed extensive domestic spying - is in the process of hiring 3,000 specialists for the purposes of combating cyber attacks against the U.S. government. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is in the process hiring another 1,000 cybersecurity specialists.

This increasing demand extends to corporations seeking to shield themselves against hacking and, of course, law enforcement agencies. It used to be solely about computers, but the field has branched out to cover investigation of all digital devices, including your cell phone.

It is not impossible to defend against cases where digital forensics are used, but it is tougher. Keep in mind that whatever you transfer onto a digital format - be it a cell phone video or text message or e-mail or Facebook note - can all be accessed, even if you later delete it.

Continue reading "Digital Forensics a Growing Field in D.C. Criminal Cases" »

July 8, 2013

Spike in D.C.-Area Sex Crimes Attributed to Old Cases Newly Reported

A 77-year-old Prince William man was recently arrested and hauled off to jail on charges of rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties by a custodian.
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His crimes reportedly took place some 30 years ago, between 1982 and 1987, while he worked as a teacher at the Evangel Christian School in Dale City.

Our D.C. sex crimes defense lawyers understand that the alleged victim was reportedly 12 years old at the time of the alleged acts. However, these incidents were only reported to authorities in recent weeks.

It's unclear what evidence, aside from this woman's word, police used to make an arrest on a alleged crime that took place decades ago. Apparently, this kind of surprise disclosure is becoming more and more common, complicating matters for a criminal justice system that is geared toward timely resolutions.

The most recent crime statistics out of Prince William indicated a substantial rise in violent crimes, namely sexual assaults. Serious crimes, which included rape, aggravated assault and robbery, rose by nearly 9 percent last year. For statistical purposes, crimes are counted in the year they are reported, not the year they allegedly happened. As it turns out, more than 4 percent of that reported increase was attributable to sexual assaults like this one that happened years ago, but were only just reported last year.

Police officials say it has to do with the fact that victims feel more comfortable coming forward today than in years past. While we certainly don't want to discount the trauma that sexual assault victims endure, the reality is that it may also be much tougher for a defendant to mount a strong defense years after the fact.

This is why we have a statute of limitations on so many crimes. We know that evidence erodes, as do the memories of any potential witnesses. People die or move away. Paperwork is lost. Conversations are forgotten. A lot happens in 30 years.

People sometimes joke about poor memories so bad they can hardly recall what they ate for breakfast. And yet, the court expects them to come to the witness stand, where someone's life and freedom is on the line, and recall with detailed accuracy an incident or occurrence that happened decades ago.

In D.C., the statute of limitations for first- or second-degree sexual abuse on a child is 15 years, though the clock does not start ticking on that case until the individual reaches the age of 21.

In cases where the victim was a patient or ward (or student) of the abuser, the clock on that statute of limitations won't begin until the individual is no longer in a relationship with the person who allegedly was the abuser.

Those who are victims of child pornography and incest have 10 years, starting from the beginning of their 21st birthday, during which they may bring charges.

In this case, the victim alleges the abuse began when she was 12 in the spring of 1982. She said the assaults continued over the course of five years.

In recently interviewing the suspect, he reportedly admitted to performing oral sex on the alleged victim in the winter of 1985.

The girl's parents had reported these allegations of abuse against the teacher back sometime in the 1990s. However, the allegations were never in turn reported to police. The school conducted its own investigation into the matter and fired the teacher, but it failed to inform law enforcement officials. This action would be considered a misdemeanor, however there is a one-year statute of limitations on that action.

Continue reading "Spike in D.C.-Area Sex Crimes Attributed to Old Cases Newly Reported" »

April 27, 2013

D.C. Defense Lawyers Review New Rape Investigation Guidelines

A man suspected of a 30-year-old D.C. sexual assault was recently convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The 64-year-old delabwork1.jpgfendant is alleged to have attacked the 25-year-old victim outside of her home after she returned from work.

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that the kind of tactics employed in rape cases back when this happened in 1978 have evolved significantly - most notably with the advent of DNA.

In fact, that's what ultimately solved this cold case, which had been inactive until it was re-opened by the department's cold case unit in 2011. By that time, the defendant had been convicted of a burglary and sexual battery in Florida in 1999, so his DNA was entered into CODIS, which is the national DNA-tracking database. A swab taken from the victim back in 1978 matched the defendant.

Because of the kinds of changes that have occurred in these particular investigations over the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Justice, back in 2004, issued national guidelines for forensic medical examinations in cases of sexual assault.

Now, the agency has updated those guidelines in its April 2013 National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations for both adults and adolescents, the second edition.

At their core, the guidelines attempt to create uniformity among medical facilities, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with regard to how sexual assault cases are approached.

A spokeswoman for the agency was quoted as saying that the biggest difference between this newer version and the original is that it takes a less prosecutorial tone. While the emphasis had previously been on pressuring the victim to cooperate with law enforcers to provide DNA samples, statements and other evidence, this new approach focuses on ensuring the mental health and well-being of the alleged victim.

In the immediate, this may seem to not affect defendants one way or another. But in fact, it does.

To begin with, an accuser who is reluctant may be hasty in revealing certain information or evidence that could be relevant to the investigation. This could potentially result in a mistaken witness identity or other issues that could later be problematic for the case.

Also, putting less pressure on accusers reduces the chances that false accusations may quickly spiral into an out-of-control situation, which the accuser may feel powerless to stop after a certain point.

Additionally, any delay in evidence collection may favor the defendant.

The other key thing this publication does is provide uniform approaches to forensic testing. That can be beneficial for defendants in a number of ways.

For one thing, it helps to ensure that defendants in districts that may have access to fewer resources won't be treated unfairly just because the testing standards aren't up to par.

Secondly, if those testing protocol are breached, it gives defense lawyers a good opportunity to challenge that evidence.

For example, one of the guidelines stresses the importance of secure storage sites for evidence that is potentially vulnerable to degradation. So let's say we're talking about a sample of wet blood or semen. These kinds of evidence require refrigeration. Urine, meanwhile, would ideally be frozen. There is also the expectation that the individuals working with samples be well-trained and knowledgeable about the potential vulnerabilities of such evidence. When the evidence is being transferred from one facility or location to another, there is the expectation that it will at all times remain preserved throughout the process.

If at any point there was a breach in the storage or if those who handled the evidence aren't as well trained as perhaps they should be, our defense attorneys won't hesitate to challenge the integrity of the evidence on that basis.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers Review New Rape Investigation Guidelines" »

April 18, 2013

D.C.-Area Felony Voyeurism Charges Reduced to Misdemeanors

A defense lawyer for a D.C.-area landlord facing felony voyeurism charges was able to negotiate a plea deal to have those charges reduced to three misdemeanor charges of visual surveillance with prurient intent.
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The highly-educated landlord/attorney was accused of installing video cameras in the smoke detectors of private apartments he rented to young women.

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that it will be the difference between a maximum 18 months and three years in jail (15 years if those recordings had been disseminated).

According to the Washington Post, this incident happened in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Maryland, just a half hour north of D.C.

Reports are that he leased rooms in a house to young women at significantly reduced rates. At some point, he had cameras installed in their bedrooms, usually in the smoke detector. He then reportedly watched that video from another location, copying recordings of the women in various states of undress or engaging in sexual activity.

This allegedly went on for years until one of the tenants happened to be reading an article about ways in which people hide surveillance cameras. The article noted smoke detectors.

She became concerned when she realized her own smoke detector didn't beep as it normally should during a power outage. She called her boyfriend over to help her look at it. That is when they reportedly discovered the camera, with wires that lead through the ceiling. The police were called.

Investigators found similar recording devices in the other units. While searching the defendant's home, they discovered video and photographs of all three tenants engaged in sexual activity.

The defendant initially faced seven counts each of using a camera without consent for prurient intent and visual surveillance without consent, as well as a single count of placement of a surreptitious surveillance device. He later agreed to plead guilty to the three misdemeanor counts, on the condition that the other, more serious charges be dropped.

The most he faces now is 18 months behind bars. He will learn his fate at a sentencing hearing this summer.

He is free on bond in the meantime, with conditions on that freedom, including that he is forbidden from advertising the lease of rooms in his home. He is also to continue to receive treatment, with reports of that treatment being forwarded to the judge prior to his sentencing.

Two of the women have already filed civil lawsuits against the defendant as well. With the criminal case still pending, he reportedly sent them a private text message, prior to their filing, saying he was willing to discuss settlement options with them before they filed civil claims, but not afterward.

Being an attorney, he should have known better than to contact witnesses in a pending criminal case. He is fortunate he wasn't charged additionally with witness tampering, even though his offer relates to the civil case.

Continue reading "D.C.-Area Felony Voyeurism Charges Reduced to Misdemeanors" »

March 17, 2013

D.C. Rape Charges Dropped Amid Clash With Prosecutors, Police

The arrest of a D.C. Uber limousine driver, accused of raping a young customer, drew international attention, primarily for the fact that it involved a relatively new transportation service.
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However, our D.C. sex crimes defense attorneys know that when it came down to pressing forward with charges, prosecutors just didn't believe it all added up.

It's a rare move for prosecutors, who almost always move forward on criminal cases based on the investigation of law enforcement. But there was an apparent lack of communication between the two agencies, given that police officials were announcing the criminal charges at a news conference outside headquarters at virtually the same time an official for the U.S. attorney's office held a similar press conference announcing no charges would be filed.

The driver was released soon thereafter.

The case is still reportedly under investigation, but according to the wife of the driver, who spoke to reporters, the accuser had made sexual advances toward the driver. It's not clear whether or not any sexual contact did in fact take place, but the woman's mother reportedly questioned her about what had occurred, and at that time, the woman reportedly falsely claimed she had been attacked.

Reports are that the 20-year-old accuser called Uber from a local bar, where she had reportedly consumed three alcoholic drinks and smoked a marijuana joint. The woman told police that after the driver had picked her up, he made several sexual advances toward her. She said she attempted to ignore them, but said as she got out of the vehicle, she said the driver grabbed her from behind, knocked her to the ground and then raped her.

A DNA test was done, but there has been no information provided as to what the results of those tests were.

During the police news conference, it was announced that the driver would be charged with first-degree sexual abuse. This charge, as found under D.C. Criminal Code 22-2002 and D.C. Criminal Code 22-3020, holds that sexual contact took place either by force or threat or in a situation in which one of those involved would not have been able to consent, usually due to some type of impairment. This is a deeply serious charge that carries a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The situation is worsened if prosecutors are able to show that there was some type of aggravating circumstance, such as the victim suffering a serious bodily injury.

Even if the ordeal is totally behind the driver, he has already lost his job, his employer having fired him after the allegation was made several months ago.

While we don't know what prompted prosecutors to reach the conclusion we did, there are several possibilities. One would be that the accused was not a reliable witness. She was certainly intoxicated to some degree, and there may be other credibility issues we don't yet know about. Secondly, the DNA tests might not have returned results that would have assisted the prosecution in its case. A lack of that in a case that was supposedly so cut-and-dry would really hurt the prosecutor's chance of success. And finally, there is the possibility that it simply wasn't true, and all the facts proved that before it ever got to to the arraignment stage.

Continue reading "D.C. Rape Charges Dropped Amid Clash With Prosecutors, Police" »

January 28, 2013

Report: D.C. Sex Assault Cases Botched By PD

A new report by Human Rights Watch alleges that D.C. police failed to investigate some 170 rape cases in the last three years. eyesdontsaylies.jpg

The police chief has responded that the group's assertion is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the department's statistics.

Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys realize that if the advocacy group's accusation is true, it could serve to undermine the reliability of police investigators in future sexual assault cases. A department that potentially cherry-picks the cases it will pursue with investigative resources can't be trusted in a court of law to provide impartial details in the cases it does take on.

It's worth noting that the incidents of reported sexual assaults in D.C. spiked by more than 50 percent in a single year from 2011 to 2012.

The advocacy group said its findings, which will be formally released late this month, were based on reports made by women who were treated at the local MedStar Washington Hospital Center between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2011. Of the 480 cases in which women claimed sexual assault, about 35 percent were not documented as such in initial police reports. Neither were those cases given file numbers, which are typically used for tracking.

The problem with this for defendants is that if cases are ever brought to trial, investigators may have wasted critical time in uncovering evidence that could have potentially led to an exoneration. The longer a case remains stagnant, the higher the probability that valuable evidence may be lost forever. This is more true in sexual assault cases than perhaps any other.

In one 2010 case, the file was closed and then re-opened more than nine months after the fact.

As we recently reported in our D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, forensic evidence is already vulnerable to contamination and misinterpretation. The potential for this is even greater the more time passes.

The advocacy group has said its 200-page report will include anecdotal narratives from alleged female victims who report their claims either weren't investigated properly or taken seriously. Specifically, alleged victims who had been consuming alcohol or who were unable to recount exact details of certain circumstances were dismissed.

Cases in which the alleged victims did not want to talk to police or have a report filed were not included in the research.

The police chief says the advocacy group is out to garner headlines and that it abused the department's trust after being given an unprecedented amount of access to records. However, the group contends it only got the files after it successfully sued for them.

Still, the chief has said since word of the report first became public, her agency has changed the way it files reports on sexual assault cases, filing reports on every single case - regardless of whether there is substantiation - and then adding the distinction of whether it is a full-blown case or merely an allegation.

But this too could pose problems for individuals accused. Now, for potentially unsubstantiated claims, there will be a public record of extremely damaging accusations against the suspect on file and subject to review by anyone.

The chief said the department also plans to create a website that will allow alleged victims who believe their cases were not handled properly to file a direct grievance. Additionally, all prior sexual assault complaints made between 2008 and 2011 that were classified as either "informational" or "miscellaneous" will be reviewed by two detectives.

In the end, this could mean even more sexual assault arrests made in the near future.

Continue reading "Report: D.C. Sex Assault Cases Botched By PD" »

December 15, 2012

D.C. Defense Lawyers Advise Sex Crimes Defendants to Remain Silent

A 19-year-old suspect in a series of D.C. sexual assaults has reportedly admitted to at least two of the crimes of which he is accused, according to media reports. imyself.jpg

As a D.C. criminal defense lawyer, I wanted to highlight this case because it's an example of what not to do after you are arrested. The defendant in this case had no attorney and, when questioned by police, gave a full confession. As a result, he has essentially handed the case to prosecutors with a red holiday bow tied on top.

Here's what reportedly happened, according to court records:

In the first case, the accuser indicated that she answered a knock at the door around 2 p.m. one day. A man was standing outside and reportedly pushed his way inside her apartment in Northeast Washington. Once inside, he reportedly knocked her to the floor, attempted to sexually assault her. He then allegedly punched, kicked and stabbed her. She suffered wounds to her face, back, legs and head. He left her on the floor unconscious. She was listed in critical condition, though expected to survive.

A week later, police reported that the same defendant went into a female dorm at Howard University and pushed his way into a woman's room. He then reportedly struck her, brandished brass knuckles with a sharp blade and began to sexually assault her. When she yelled for him to stop, the defendant reportedly stopped. He then grabbed a piece of paper, wrote an abbreviation of his name and his cell phone number on it. He left the piece of paper in the room and then left.

Police were able to use this information, in combination with surveillance video from the earlier incident, to arrest the 19-year-old suspect.

Upon his arrest, he told police that he had only attempted to rob the first woman. In the second incident, he maintained the encounter was consensual.

Students at the dorm told police a man fitting the defendant's description had been loitering in the area on numerous occasions, but had always departed when told.

The defendant is charged with assault with intent to kill, assault with intent to commit first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sexual abuse. These are all very serious crimes for which the defendant is facing a lengthy prison sentence.

First-degree sexual abuse alone, under D.C. Criminal Code 22-2002, can carry a life sentence and a fine of up to $250,000. Essentially to prove this crime, prosecutors have to show that the defendant engaged another person in a sexual act, either by actual physical force or by threat of force that placed the other person in reasonable fear that failure to do so would result in death or serious injury. It also may involve rendering the other person unconscious through the use of a chemical or drug in order to sexually assault that person.

Upon your arrest, police are required to read you what are known as "Miranda Rights," and included in these is your right to remain silent, with the advisement that anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly when you are facing such grave charges.

There are ways that confessions can be refuted in court, but it can be tough. So the general advice we give everyone arrested in a crime is this: Stay silent, except to demand an attorney.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers Advise Sex Crimes Defendants to Remain Silent" »

October 22, 2012

Former Aide, Cheerleader, Pleads Guilty to D.C. Sex Crime Involving Minor

A former teacher's aide and cheerleading coach has pleaded guilty to charges that she gave birth to the child of a 17-year-old student. lap.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
understand that while there may have been no actual force involved in the encounters, the teen's age, coupled with the fact that the woman was a person in a position of authority, makes the sexual contact a crime. Specifically, she has pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree sexual abuse of a secondary education student.

For this, she faces up to 1 year in jail and a requirement to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.

Not every instance of consensual sexual contact between an adult over the age of 18 is considered a crime. Generally, if the adult is at least four years older than the minor or if he or she is in a position of authority over the minor, sexual contact can be considered criminal.

However, if the minor is under the age of 16 and particularly if he or she is under the age of 12, it is held that he or she is not able to consent to sexual contact with an adult under any circumstance.

These are cases for which you must have an experienced criminal defense lawyer advocating for you. Although in this case, the defendant faces up to a year in jail, sometimes the penalties can be much harsher, depending on the circumstances.

According to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, the 30-year-old worked as a teacher's aide and youth program supervisor. This was reportedly how she met the minor, who was 17-years-old at the time and was a student at a different school.

Their relationship reportedly began back in the late summer of 2010, shortly after the student's participation in the program the defendant was supervising had ended. The relationship reportedly continued through the spring of last year.

The defendant reportedly attended the teen's basketball games, picked him up from school, took him out to dinner and showered him with gifts such as clothing and shoes.

The prosecutors contended that the defendant urged the teen not to tell anyone about their relationship until after he turned 18. The encounters occurred, she told investigators, almost every day, mostly at her residence but in some cases at his home.

Throughout the course of their relationship, the woman reportedly became pregnant on two occasions. It's not clear what happened with the pregnancy during the first instance, but in the second instance, she carried the child to term and gave birth. In both instances, she informed the teen that he was the father. The teen reportedly tried to end the relationship before she became pregnant a second time, though he continued to engage in a sexual relationship with her.

After the child was born, a biological test confirmed the child was fathered by the teen.

She was subsequently arrested last month.

The plea deal comes relatively quickly after the arrest. Many sexual assault or sexual abuse cases can take months, if not longer, to resolve. If this case had gone to trial, it almost certainly would have taken at least that long.

However, the defense was likely eager to negotiate a plea deal, as a conviction was probable, given the DNA proof from the child that the two had engaged in a sexual relationship. Had the case gone to trial, she might have faced up to 10 years behind bars.

Judges and prosecutors tend to be more lenient in cases where the alleged victim was older and the encounters were consensual, but the penalties can still be severe, and the requirement to register as a sex offender can haunt you well into the future.

Don't leave your case to chance.

Continue reading "Former Aide, Cheerleader, Pleads Guilty to D.C. Sex Crime Involving Minor" »

October 9, 2012

Sex Assault Suspect Sought in D.C./Fairfax County Area

Authorities in Fairfax County are searching for a man they suspect is connected to a series of sexual assaults there.thetouch.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that teens and young women have reported being approached and groped by a man described by police as a shorter Hispanic man with a trimmed beard in his 30s who wears a black-and-white bandana and/or a red baseball hat.

Of course, that may fit the description of a lot of people in the area, and clothing is not an especially great identifier as it is so easily changed. Facial hair, too, is not necessarily a good identifier, unless it is particularly unique.

Police have released a sketch of the man they believe is responsible for each of the attacks, which have occurred on a regular basis in that area since mid-September.

The youngest alleged victim was 15, while the oldest was 40 - all female. One woman said she was attacked while walking home with her young daughter.

The suspect is accused of approaching the women, cornering them, fondling them and then fleeing when they yell for help.

Many of these incidents occurred in the evening, when it began to get dark. This means that barring some form of surveillance footage, it may be difficult for authorities to catch the man unless he is caught again in the act. Witness testimony is often unreliable, particularly when a good visual is obstructed by darkness. It doesn't mean the attacks didn't occur, it just means that making sure to identify the correct suspect may prove challenging. The burden of proof, as always in criminal cases, lies with the prosecutor.

Sexual abuse charges in D.C. can be filed in four different degrees, or levels of seriousness.

The first of those is first-degree sexual abuse. This charge is the most serious, and it requires prosecutors to prove that a person engaged in a sexual act with another or caused another to engage in sexual act that was either with the use of force or the threat of force. This could be anything from physically holding someone down to rendering them unconscious with a chemical substance to threatening serious physical harm or death, whether or not they actually carry out that threat. A person found guilty of first-degree sexual abuse faces a prison sentence of up to 30 years and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

Second-degree sexual abuse is similar, except that it does not require the accused to have participated in rendering the alleged victim unconscious or unable to consent. It merely requires that the person took advantage of a person who was unable to refuse participation. This may also be charged if the offender threatens to harm the alleged victim. This offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars and/or a fine of up to $200,000.

The other thing that these two charges have in common is that they require a sexual act, i.e., penetration.

For accusations of unwanted sexual contact or touching, as in these cases, third and fourth-degree charges are more appropriate. Third-degree involves forced sexual contact or sexual contact that is engaged in on the basis of threat of harm or that is carried out by rendering a person unconscious. The fourth is similar, except that it doesn't require that the individual actually acted in making the person unconscious. These charges carry penalties of up to 10 and 5 years, respectively.

Continue reading "Sex Assault Suspect Sought in D.C./Fairfax County Area" »

October 3, 2012

Sex Assault Defendant Gets Suspended 1-Year Sentence, $400 Fine

An ex-nurse's aid who had been accused of sexually assaulting two incapacitated residents at a nursing home in Virginia pleaded guilty to two counts each of assault and battery. touch1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that in exchange for this plea, the penalties for the 47-year-old were minimal: a 12-month, suspended sentence in jail and a $100 fine on each count.

The laws for sexual assault vary from state-to-state, but generally, the sexual assault of an incapacitated person tends to bring about more serious penalties. IN D.C., for example, D.C. Codes 22-3001-3101 address the issue of sexual abuse. A person may be charged with sexual abuse in the second-degree if he or she knows or should have known that the alleged victim was incapable of giving or communicating consent or declining participation. (The difference between this and first-degree sexual assault is that the defendant must have participated in rendering the individual unconscious or otherwise unable to consent.) Still, the charge is serious and can result in a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of up to $200,000, under D.C. Criminal Code 22-3003.

So why was this individual able to serve virtually zero jail time, despite the conviction?

It probably comes down to proof. Although he pleaded guilty, prosecutors likely knew that had the case gone to trial, the solid proof of the crime was likely minimal.

The alleged victims may not have been able to get up on the stand and clearly testify before a jury about what happened.

Police in Virginia began investigating the aide amid accusations that he had molested several of the residents. (Police have also charged administrators at the home with failing to report those assaults to authorities.)

The nursing home reported to police two allegations against the former employee, even though one of those had been deemed unfounded. However, information on a third allegation involving another female resident was not provided to authorities.

In the latter case involved a woman who was paralyzed on her left side after suffering a traumatic brain injury two decades ago. A nurse who was conducting therapy for the patient reported that she saw the aide leaving the room and when she entered, the woman was extremely upset. It was later alleged in broken communication that he had attempted to force her to perform oral sex on him.

Authorities at the home met with the accuser for a half an hour and determined there had been no wrongdoing.

But the evidence that was provided to authorities (only after a family member of the woman called police) was primarily circumstantial in nature. The fact that the aid was seen leaving the room and the resident was subsequently upset does not necessarily mean that a sexual assault occurred. Or even if it did occur, the proof is severely lacking.

In the other case, the former aide was charged with felony aggravated battery and misdemeanor sexual assault against another woman, who reportedly accused him of fondling her.

Continue reading "Sex Assault Defendant Gets Suspended 1-Year Sentence, $400 Fine" »

September 12, 2012

Misdemeanor Crimes in D.C. Can Still Have Serious Consequences

A recent column by a Washington Post columnist lamented that groping is "a crime, not a misdemeanor." oldbicycle.jpg

Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers want to point out that a misdemeanor is, in fact, a crime. And despite the fact that the court will not appoint you a lawyer for misdemeanor cases, you may still face serious consequences, and you will need an experienced legal advocate who is looking out for your best interests.

The case in question involves a male bicyclist accused of groping numerous women while he zoomed past. One woman's highly-publicized report of an incident in Dupont Circle resulted in a handful of other women coming forward to report similar experiences to police.

After police interviewed numerous witnesses, they began reviewing hours of surveillance footage of the areas where the alleged assaults were reported to have occurred. It was in the course of this aspect of the investigation that detectives were able to identify the suspect.

They then questioned him, and he reportedly confessed to the offenses for which he was accused, as well as potentially eight other offenses.

As a result, he was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse. D.C. Criminal Code 22-3006 defines misdemeanor abuse as a person who engages in either a sexual contact or a sexual act with another person when the offender should have known that he or she did not have the other individual's permission.

One common example of misdemeanor sexual abuse might be unwanted groping of passengers on the Metro.

The maximum fine for a single count of misdemeanor sexual abuse is 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

This is what the columnist takes issue with. Her stance is that misdemeanor sexual abuse is not harsh enough, and that under current sentencing guidelines, someone who commits theft from a vending machine will get a harsher penalty (potentially up to three years).

D.C. defense attorneys might alternately argue that the penalties for vending machine theft are too high.

As it stands, the 31-year-old defendant in this case is charged with four counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse. That is a maximum penalty of up to five years behind bars.

By contrast, a fourth-degree felony sexual abuse charge is defined as unwanted sexual contact that involves reasonable fear of injury or a victim who is unconscious. Punishment for this offenses is up to five years in jail.

So felony or misdemeanor - in this case, the defendant is facing serious criminal charges. Even though a misdemeanor conviction is considered relatively minor, it can affect your future employment prospects - particularly if your alleged crimes were of a sexual nature.

Given the amount of proof police have, with the videotaped evidence and confession, it may be wise for this defendant's attorney to work toward some sort of reduced plea deal.

As he awaits his next court date, he's been ordered to stay away from the accusers and has been sent to live in a halfway house.

While this case is somewhat unique, the fact is a large majority of cases like this are the result of either misunderstandings or mistaken identity. They are difficult for prosecutors to prove, absent either multiple witnesses or surveillance video. Many defense attorneys have successfully had charges in cases like this reduced or dropped on these and other grounds.

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July 26, 2012

Investigators Seeking D.C. Sex Attack Suspect

A sexual assault reported by a female jogger on Capitol Crescent has prompted investigators to seek the public's help in locating the suspect. joggingblur.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know that this case is somewhat unique in that most allegations of sexual assault are made by someone who knows the alleged victim. Stranger attacks, while they do happen, are pretty rare.

That said, one thing that most sex crimes cases have in common is a heavy reliance on DNA evidence. Prosecutors use DNA evidence to prove that there was some contact - presumably sexual - between the victim and the defendant.

When DNA is present, the defense is two-pronged:

1. Does the mere fact that there is DNA present prove that a crime occurred?
2. How reliable is that DNA evidence?

With regard to sex crime allegations in which the two individuals know each other, it's not enough to show that they had contact with each other. Obviously if they knew one another, the fact that one's DNA is found on another doesn't necessarily prove anything - particularly if the two were dating or in an otherwise romantic relationship.

Prosecutors have to have a fair amount of circumstantial evidence, and a big part of that is eyewitness testimony. The truth of the matter is, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. We are just now - through DNA evidence - finding that cases that were tried 10, 20, 30 years ago or longer that resulted in convictions based on eyewitness testimony were completely faulty.

That's not to say witnesses lie. Of course, sometimes they do, but more often than not, they want to help investigators. They want so badly to help solve the crime that they won't readily admit that they truly didn't see the person's face or other features clearly. A good investigator will be able to tell when a witness isn't solid, but sometimes, they want to solve it as badly as the witness, and they allow that to get in the way of their objectivity.

Now with regard to sexual assaults involving supposed strangers, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that just because two people don't know each other well doesn't mean a consensual sexual encounter was impossible, particularly if alcohol was involved.

And secondly, DNA evidence isn't fool-proof. It's considered the gold standard by law enforcement and prosecutors, and it's true that a large number of defendants have been convicted in cases where there was strong DNA evidence. But more and more, the public has been made aware of issues of contamination, improper methodology and faulty tests. Cases in Texas, for example, caused an entire lab to shut down for a time due to contamination issues.

It hasn't been raised as a point specifically in D.C., but it's always a possibility.

On the flip side, DNA can call into question other sources of forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, bite marks and firearm ballistics.

In this case, the alleged victim reported she was running along the trail around 9:15 p.m. when she was attacked from behind and placed in a choke hold. She reportedly lost consciousness for a time, and awoke to the suspect fondling her.

It remains to be seen what role, if any, forensics will play in this case.

Continue reading "Investigators Seeking D.C. Sex Attack Suspect" »