False accusations of sexual assault are real. They take place every day in police stations and courtrooms throughout the United States. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system works on the presumption that alleged victims of sexual violence are telling the truth.
A complainant’s story is generally accepted without significant investigation and charges are brought forth against a defendant. In Rhode Island, cases that allege any form of penetration are charged as first-degree sexual assault or child molestation depending upon the age of the complainant. Defendants are routinely held without bail despite the credibility of the charges for two weeks. A person’s job, ability to parent, or ability to attend school is completely upended as they await the results of a bail hearing.
False accusations are particularly common among college or high school students. We live in a day and age where a complaining witness would rather be a victim of a crime than a person who made a questionable decision to engage in sex.
Complainants that engage in sexual intercourse while intoxicated may be quick to state that they never consented or simply don’t remember consenting. Of course, the defendant may have been intoxicated as well but that is not a defense at least in terms of the initial charges.
It is my experience that the only effective form of representation is to aggressively fight the false accusations. It starts with working all channels to attempt to secure bail at the arraignment. If the client is still held, then all preparations must go into a bail hearing where there can be an opportunity to confront and cross-examine a complainant at a very early stage and gauge exactly what took place. Investigation should also begin immediately, including a visit to the alleged crime scene and interviews of all potential witnesses.
If the matter is awaiting grand jury, a decision should be made as to whether or not the client should testify at the grand jury in an attempt to convince a grand jury that probable cause does not exist to charge the case. A seasoned grand jury can be an excellent opportunity to end a case early and avoid the necessity of going to trial.
False accusations are real and they happen every day. Fortunately, the attorneys at the Law Office of John E. MacDonald are here to help if you, a family member, or friend are ever the victim of one of them.