Introduction to False Allegations of Abuse: Defending the Falsely Accused
When facing false allegations, it is not at all uncommon for the accused to take the accusation as a joke, fail to prepare a proper defense and then find themselves convicted of crimes they never committed and sentenced to hundreds of years in prison. One couple, in Kern County, California, was sentenced to 200 years in prison. Regardless of what anyone tells you, begin preparing a defense as soon as an accusation is made.
In many cases, a false accusation of molesting is made by a child in a heated divorce or custody matter. This specific problem has gotten so out-of-hand in this country that it has been given a name; the S.A.I.D. Syndrome (Sexual Allegations in Divorce). What better tool would a woman have to assure that she retains custody than hollering "abuse."
By far, the biggest problem with a false allegation of child sexual abuse is that it is the only crime where the accused is not innocent until proven guilty, but is guilty until they prove beyond any doubt that they are innocent. I cannot stress strongly enough that if a child says it happened, the burden of proof is clearly on the accused, not the accuser. Why? Because society is full of psychologists, social workers and victim advocates who do not investigate, but validate and prosecutors who are trying to make headlines by convicting a child molester. Understand that society, for the most part, condemns anyone even accused of molesting a child. Even the most hardened rapists and murderers in prison despise a convicted molester. In reality, once the allegation is made, for the accused, it's close to a no-win situation. That is the primary reason that many who are innocent accept a plea agreement, especially when they are told if they do not, they face life in prison.
False allegations, over the past years, have become close to an epidemic, especially since the reporting laws have changed with the introduction of the Mondale Act. Under the Mondale Act, anyone failing to report any incident of suspected child abuse can be convicted of a felony. As a result, physicians, teachers and other professionals are afraid not to report any incident, regardless of how small, out of fear that they may be prosecuted themselves.
Your key to a successful solution to a false allegation charge amounts to retaining proper legal counsel, documenting everything that happens pertaining to the matter and proving your innocence well prior to any trial. Certainly, any proper defense will cost, but far less than attempting to reverse a conviction.
If you find yourself in a position of being confronted with a false allegation of sexually molesting a child, under no circumstances take that allegation lightly, regardless of how ridiculous you, or anyone else may think it is. As a simple matter of fact, you may well be in for the fight of your life and, if you lose, you, like hundreds of others, will find yourself sentenced to prison for years for crimes you never committed.
One of the most heart breaking aspects of our work is to have talked with an accused, prior to their trial, who refuses to take their situation seriously. Any recommendations we make are disregarded with statements like;
- I'm not really worried.
- I've done the best I can.
- I can't afford any professional help.
- My attorney isn't doing anything, but I can't say anything to make them mad.
- I can't afford to change attorneys.
- I'm just going to take my chances.
- It's all in God's hands.
- I have prepared my own defense.
- If I get convicted, I just get convicted.
It takes a jury about 5 seconds to say, "We find the defendant guilty as charged." When those words ring out, suddenly the situation does become serious and the accused is then ready to "do it right." The problem is, at that point, they are caught up in the legal system. It could easily take years and far more cost to have their conviction reversed than it would to have properly been prepared for trial. In addition, what most people fail to understand is that the reversal of a conviction does not mean it is over. Normally, a conviction is reversed in favor of a new trial, so after thousands of dollars, they find themselves right back at square one and again, if they fail to properly prepare, they could easily be convicted a second time.
There are no shortcuts in building a defense for these cases. They require a qualified attorney, investigator, a support staff and experts in order to build and present evidence that proves, beyond any doubt, that the allegations made against the accused are false and they are innocent.
Any accused can find a thousand reasons, usually financially, not to properly defend themselves, but all the excuses vanish and their thinking quickly changes when they are convicted. Then it becomes a matter of, "Get me out of prison." On many occasions, the accused was convicted after they attempted every shortcut possible, which included them personally preparing what they believed was their own perfect defense.
As to finances, think carefully. If someone is convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, how much money could they have made during that 25 years? Wouldn't that amount have been far more than the cost of a proper defense that may have prevented the conviction.
Again, if you do find yourself in a position of being falsely accused of sexual abuse and please note, I said "falsely" accused;
- Find the funds necessary to retain the services of a lawyer who is experienced in handling false allegations of abuse. Just as you would not advise a loved one to seek a medical doctor who is a general practitioner for a brain disorder, realize that false allegations are also a specialty and require an expert.
- Once you have retained an attorney, do not discuss anything about your case with anyone unless your attorney authorizes it or they are present.
- Consider the possibility of taking a polygraph examination as a means of proving your innocence. Naturally, an attorney would not suggest that and let me assure you, unless you are absolutely innocent, do not attempt any such test. Also, consider working with an expert prior to any testing so any outside issues will be resolved and the questions are structured properly.
- Do not talk to social workers or anyone else about your case unless your attorney okays it and is preferably present. Your words, even to friends, can be quickly turned against you in court.
- Do not antagonize CPS, guardians-ad-litem, adversarial counsel or the psychologists in your case.
- Retain your own mental health expert to evaluate the child's competency as a witness and credibility. This is vital.
- Retain an expert pediatrician, if necessary, to refute alleged medical findings as "consistent with sexual abuse."
- Get all depositions or statements "typed up" immediately as well as any audio tapes you are given through discovery.
- If the child who made the false allegation is your child, do not lose your love for your child. Remember, regardless of what you may believe, it's not the child's fault!
- If at all possible, if the allegation was made by a child who lives, or did live with you, attempt to get at least supervised visits them.
- Do not confront the child or children regarding the investigation. If you do, you may be accused of intimidating a state witness or causing further harm, neglect or trauma to the child or children.
- If recording is legal in your state, begin recording everything that pertains to your case. In each instance where you do tape record something important, place that tape into an envelope and seal it. Identify on the outside of the envelope the date, time, name of the parties involved and a short synopsis of what the conversation was about. After you seal the envelope, lock it up so that no one can later claim the tape was tampered with. To determine the laws pertaining to recording in individual states, see"Laws on Recording."
- If you are in any position where you are able to continue communicating with the "alleged" child victim, without fail, electronically record any and all conversations.
- The most important point is, "record" every conversation with persons pertaining to your case. The child may say something they will later deny, the social worker may testify you told them you were guilty, the detective may testify that you told them, "If I had a problem like that, could I get help."
- Do not give up and under no circumstances, never depend on someone else to "take care" of the problem. You monitor all progress and you maintain a knowledgeable and working attitude throughout your entire defense. You can win only if you refuse to lose.
One final consideration. Many times in sexual allegation cases, prosecutors offer a plea agreement that is accepted, even though the accused is innocent, because the plea amounts to far less than the accused could get if tried and convicted. If you do enter a guilty plea to a felony sex crime:
- The Court does not have to follow the prosecutor's recommendation and can impose a much more severe sentence than the prosecutor agreed to. Although that does not happen frequently, the Court does have that right.
- You lose your right to any appeal, unless you were subjected to threats or coercion, unable to fully understand your rights or if the Court failed to advise you on record as to what rights you are waiving.
- You are still considered "guilty," even under a nolo contendere, (no contest) or Alford, (no admission of guilt). In some Alford pleas, a violation means your sentence will revert to the maximum imposed by the state if you had been tried and convicted.
- Under Megan's Law your name and place of residence will be posted publicly. You will most probably also have to register as a sex offender annually and every time you change your residence address. Some states require registration for life.
- You lose your rights under the Constitution, such as your right to vote, your right to carry a firearm and your right to a search warrant. Authorities can search your premises at any time day or night without a warrant or probable cause.
- You may be ordered to stay completely away from children. This can include your own children regardless of whether or not they were the alleged victims.
- If you are a licensed professional or work in an industry that has security clearance requirements or a morals clause, you may very well find your career history.