Being charged with a sex crime can be an extremely challenging time in a person's life, especially if they are innocent of the allegations against them. States have made protecting victims of sex offenses, especially children, a top priority. New Jersey has been at the forefront of this movement, meaning that these can become extremely high-profile cases. These crimes are thoroughly investigated by law enforcement officials, and aggressively prosecuted at trial.
When someone is accused of a sex crime, it can be confusing to know exactly what crime is being alleged. For example, news stories may say that someone has been accused of child molestation. The actual crimes that fit under this label include aggravated sexual assault, as well as sexual assault, in addition to other types of sex offenses.
The more serious of these crimes is aggravated sexual assault, which is a first degree felony. A conviction of this crime could result in a 10- to 20-year prison sentence. Under the New Jersey statutes, an aggravated sexual assault occurs when there is an act of sexual penetration and:
- The victim is less than 13; or
- The victim is between 13 and 16, and is related by blood or affinity to the accused, or the actor is in a position of authority or control over the victim, or is the victim's guardian or foster parent; or
- The act occurs during an attempted or completed crime of robbery, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault on another, burglary, arson, or criminal escape; or
- The accused has a weapon and threatens to use the weapon; or
- One or more persons aids the actor, and the actor uses physical force or coercion; or
- The physical force or coercion leads to a severe injury for the victim; or
- The victim is, or the actors should have known that the victim was physically helpless, mentally defective, or mentally incapacitated.
Those convicted of sex offenses will be required to sign the state's list of registered sex offenders under Megan's Law, a first-in-the-nation law that went into effect in 1994. According to New Jersey State Police, there are over 13,000 offenders on the list as of October 2010. Offenders would need to register for 15 years. If they have no future crimes, offenders can petition the New Jersey Supreme Court to end the registration requirement.
Defenses to Sex Offenses
For those accused of a sex offense, building a strong defense will be challenging, because of the odds they are facing. An experienced criminal defense trial attorney will frequently make all the difference in the world. The public has a strong disposition against those who commit these crimes, especially when the victim is a child. It is not uncommon for even close friends to distance themselves after the allegations are made public. Jurors may come into the courtroom ready to convict the accused before any testimony is presented.
Despite these challenges, many options are available to help the accused present a strong defense. For instance, in certain situations, an attorney may be able to help the person accused of the crime prove that the sex was consensual, or that there was a mistake as to the victim's ability to consent, and that no crime occurred. The specific circumstances of the encounter may show a lengthy wait in reporting the alleged crime, making it difficult to find evidence to show that a crime actually happened.
Additionally, it may be possible that the victim did not identify the actual person who committed the act. It is not uncommon for there to be cases of mistaken identity or for a victim to pick the wrong person out of a police lineup. In these situations, if the accused is truly innocent, DNA testing on evidence should be able to prove innocence at trial.
In situations where the victim is a child, the case adds additional challenges for criminal defense attorneys. If the child testifies, attorneys will need to carefully perform any questioning. If they are too aggressive, it could upset the jury. However, it will be extremely important for attorneys to thoroughly investigate any claims that the child has made, to determine if the child is making truthful allegations. Frequently, the child claims to have been abused after being prodded by an adult who is close to the accused. It might be a former boyfriend or girlfriend or family member who is looking to make life difficult.
Know the Options Available
Even though being accused of these crimes can make someone feel helpless and afraid, if you or someone you know has been accused of aggravated sexual assault, speak to an experienced attorney to understand how to present an aggressive defense. By preparing to fight the allegations being made, you may be able to help yourself minimize the consequences you are facing. As soon as you find out that the police are investigating you, take the appropriate steps to protect your rights.