Author’s note: The California Innocence Project has not looked into Jerry Sandusky’s claim of innocence, and is not commenting on the outcome of his case. We recognize that child sex abuse is a very serious charge that deserves to be treated as such. The case does serve as a tool to discuss the unique issues arising from a claim of innocence by an individual convicted of a sexual abuse of a minor.
Last week, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years of imprisonment for charges stemming from his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. In the wake of Sandusky’s recent sentence, child molestation cases and how they are processed in the criminal justice system have once again been thrust into the spotlight. Although Sandusky’s case and the allegations he faced shocked the nation, Sandusky’s continued claim of innocence has angered many people, some of who believe Sandusky got off too lightly for his crimes. Sandusky’s case highlights how volatile and fraught molestation cases can be. In the factual innocence context, an individual’s claim that he or she did not molest a child is almost always viewed with the greatest skepticism.
When attempting to overturn their conviction, individuals claiming innocence in child molestation cases often have more hurdles to overcome than any other crime. A person accused of a crime against a child faces an extreme uphill battle from the moment he or she is charged. Society’s reactions to allegations of crimes against minors have always been extraordinarily emotionally charged, as was seen in the McMartin preschool case of the 1980s. Recently, a California middle school teacher committed suicide after being charged with of child molestation. Immense pressure is often placed on law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, judges and even political leaders to be tough on crimes related to children.
Molestation cases differ from other crimes in many significant ways. Child witnesses are potentially susceptible to suggestion and can unwillingly confabulate stories in an effort to “appease” or “help” investigators who suspect molestation. This susceptibility is not seen in other cases, such as armed robbery or homicide cases, as witnesses who are older are more likely to refrain from being unintentionally misled by police.
Further, children often do not report incidents of sexual abuse until months, even years, after the incident occurred. If you are someone who has suffered in the past and is now willing to come forward, now is the time to do so. Visit this website to get more information on the right kind of professional personal injury lawyer assistance. This differs significantly from other cases, like burglary or carjacking, where the police are notified almost immediately after the crime has occurred. In cases of sexual abuse, they tend to be less talked about for fear of people’s opinions and the general ideology of shaming the victim rather than apprehending the abuser. It is really important to seek counsel in cases such as these and a Scottsdale defense team or any qualified legal counsel in your vicinity who specialize in cases such as these might be able to help the victim out.
Moreover, in recent years, cases of online grooming have unfortunately soared, especially among teenagers. In case you were not aware online grooming is when someone uses the internet to trick, force, or pressure a young person into doing something sexual, like sending a naked video or image of themselves. With this in mind, ensure you talk with your children to make sure they understand what to do to avoid being groomed. For example, start by finding out what platforms your children use. If you know what platforms your children are accessing and using, then you can read into the age limits for these and also how safe they really are. Knowing this information can help you protect your child online. For more internet safety resources, take a look at this source here.
Additionally, in many cases dealing with sexual offenses of a minor, there is no physical evidence. The lack of physical evidence can be a result of late reporting of the incident or the nature of the sexual abuse. If the abuser does not ejaculate or leaves any other biological evidence behind, there will be little to no DNA deposited by the perpetrator for law enforcement to collect and test.
Despite these other differences, however, molestation cases are no different from other criminal prosecutions in one key respect: people convicted of molestation are sometimes factually innocent of their crimes.
Often, cases dealing with sexual offense are based solely on the child’s testimony. If an individual is falsely convicted of a sexual offense of a minor based solely on the testimony by a child, his/her only hope of exoneration is for the accuser to recant- and even then, the court may be reluctant to overturn the conviction.
The lack of evidence typically presented leads to very few avenues available for an innocent person to challenge their conviction. In the joint project by the University of Michigan School of Law and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, The National Registry of Exonerations released a report examining exonerations between 1989 and 2012. Of the 102 exonerations for child sex abuse cases, the report released the following statistics to account for what led to these individuals’ wrongful convictions:
– 26% mistaken witness identification
– 74% perjury or false accusation
– 7% false confession
– 21% false or misleading forensic evidence
– 35% official misconduct
In addition, the report also states that child sex abuse exonerations primarily involve fabricated crimes. The false accusations are by large produced by pressure on the children from relatives, police officers, or therapists; these accusations generally unravel when the witnesses recant.
One example of a fabricated crime of a sexual offense of a minor resulting in a false conviction is the John Stoll case. John Stoll was falsely convicted of child molestation in one of several infamous Kern County, California sex ring prosecutions that took place in the mid-1980’s. Stoll was convicted solely on the testimony of six boys, ages seven to nine. Stoll spent 20 years wrongfully imprisoned before his conviction was overturned. His conviction occurred in the midst of the District Attorney’s search for child molesters during the so-called “Bakersfield Witchhunts.”
Child molestation is a terrible crime that has an impact on more than the victim. The victim’s family and the community are always deeply affected and every step should be taken to protect children from being victimized. However, communities should also wait until the evidence is presented in court before passing judgement on the accused. If one of the causes of wrongful conviction is present, the case must be thoroughly investigated. Wrongful convictions can happen to anyone or with any crime, no matter what the allegations are.