CAN YOU BE CHARGED WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT BASED ON WHAT SOMEONE SAID?
Feb. 9, 2018
“Can I really be charged with sexual assault just because someone said I did it?”
Speaking as criminal defense attorneys, we can tell you that this question gets asked a lot. Whenever college students are accused of date rape, bosses are accused of sexual harassment, or coworkers are accused of inappropriate touching, one of the first things they ask us is whether this other person’s story is going to land them in jail.
The answer to this question is technically no, but theoretically, yes. No — an accusation by itself may not be enough to get you locked away on its own. But yes — an accusation can open an investigation, which can lead to a sexual assault charge and even conviction with all of the consequences that come with it. That’s why, if you, your child, or someone else you love has been accused of sexual assault, you absolutely should not wait to get a criminal defense lawyer on your side.
THE ACCUSATION & CHARGING PROCESS
Sexual assault cases tend to be extremely circumstantial. The goal of both prosecutors and defenders in these cases is the same: to get to the truth of what they think really happened. This involves extensive investigation on both sides. Prosecutors try to get to a better case than a “he said, she said” case, and search for physical evidence or witness statements that corroborate the accuser. However, in cases where the prosecution lacks this type of evidence, a case can still proceed forward on the accusation of a person alone. As criminal defense lawyers, we too search for evidence corroborating what our client tells us. This, in turn, means that we can often get better outcomes than most other attorneys.
To better understand what the courts and juries are looking for, let’s dive deeper into the process of being charged with sexual assault in Wisconsin. We’ll do this by addressing two of the statements that we frequently hear our clients say in defense of their accusations.
“I DIDN’T DO IT, PLUS THERE’S NO PROOF.”
When someone is falsely accused of a sex crime, they often wonder how they could get charged with the crime when the only bit of evidence against them is the other person’s accusation.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” they say.
That’s a fair point, but as far as the law is concerned, it’s not entirely true. After all, one person’s accusation is just like a witness statement — it’s a piece of evidence against you. So while it may not close the case on its own, it isn’t hearsay either. And it is certainly enough to make a Wisconsin court take it seriously, and continue the case for trial.
In order to determine who’s telling the truth at trial, juries consider all other evidence that each side puts forth to support their side of the story (this is called “corroborating evidence”). Here are some common types of corroborating evidence you might see in a sexual assault case:
Witness statements. Witnesses could include people who were at the same party, friends who spoke with the victim before or after the event, coworkers, roommates, etc.
DNA evidence. Depending on the circumstances of the assault, DNA may be collected from the scene of the crime or from the body and/or clothes of the victim, the accused, or anyone else at the scene of the crime.
Statements from the accused. Even if they’re innocent, the accused could say something that sounds suspicious when posed in the right context. That’s one of the many reasons why you should always have a lawyer present when speaking to the police.
“THEY’RE MAKING IT ALL UP.”
Nationwide, there have been some changes in perspective when it comes to sex crimes. Every now and then, a high-profile case reminds us all how important it is to defend the well-being of legitimate victims. At other times, a case comes along and reminds us that not every sexual assault story is true. Sometimes the so-called victim is actually lying.
Why would someone lie about something as serious as sexual assault? Well, there are quite a few reasons, including these:
Sexual regret. One of the most common reasons that a victim might claim to have been assaulted or raped is because they are ashamed (perhaps for religious, social, or personal reasons) or afraid of getting in trouble (with their parents, school, community, etc.)
Changing one’s mind. It’s more common than you might think for sex to begin consensually and then change. For instance, if two people have sex while intoxicated and one of them regrets it the next day, that person may feel violated. This scenario brings many shades of gray into the concept of non-consensual sex.
Personal vendettas. If you’ve been falsely accused, it’s easy to jump straight to “they’re out to get me!” In truth, though, the above-mentioned reasons are seen much more frequently.
WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCUSATION
So, can you be charged with sexual assault based on what someone said? Yes. Can you be convicted? Possibly, which is why anyone in this situation is in great danger. Our advice, get a competent defense team on your side.
Whether it’s you, your child, or another family member who has been accused of sexual assault, it’s important that you arm yourself with legal knowledge and an experienced lawyer. We at Mastantuono & Coffee SC have more than 45 years of combined experience handling these and other types of criminal cases for people throughout Milwaukee, Waukesha, and surrounding areas.
More importantly, we know how scary it is to face such accusations and will do everything in our power to set the record straight so that your life can get back to normal.