When Accused of a Sex Crime, Silence Isn’t Always Golden

Of all the things that can disrupt relationships, none is more powerful than an accusation of a sexual assault—especially sexual abuse of a child. If one learns one has been accused, the natural inclination is to go into full defense mode. And if nothing comes from the accusation in the first couple of months after it is made, the natural inclination is to hope it blows over—simply to put it out of one’s mind as best one can.

Responding as little as possible may indeed be the best course. But at the Marshall Defense Firm, we have seen that sometimes ignoring an allegation allows it to fester. We’ve wondered whether sometimes our accused clients would have done better by responding pro-actively.

Responding pro-actively is risky. One should never do it without consulting an attorney about the risks and the possible benefits. Many criminal defense attorneys counsel silence to accused persons almost reflexively; an accused person who wants to carefully evaluate a pro-active course will need to find an attorney who is open to the idea.

We mention the possibility of responding pro-actively because we have seen how hearts can harden as months go by. Especially when the accusation arises within a family—say, an adult or teen in the family is accused of molesting a child in the family—family members may, after the initial shock wears off, be open to reconciliation. That reconciliation may require the accused to reach out in some way. If the accused doesn’t reach out in the early going—or does reach out, but in the wrong way—the accuser and their supporters may lose interest in anything but harsh punishment. 

If the accusation has not been initially reported to police, stony silence by the accused may cause it to be. 

The challenge for accused persons who wish to seek reconciliation is how to do so without triggering police involvement. Professional counselors and therapists are mandated to report to the authorities whenever they have reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused. (This aspect of American law contrasts with rules in some other countries. In Germany, for example, a project named Dunkelfeld allows even those who have committed sex offenses to get therapy without the therapists’ reporting them.) Clergy in the United States are also mandated reporters.

Finding a path to reconciliation that doesn’t lead to police involvement could hinge on finding a family member who could serve as a neutral facilitator of the process. 

Any attempt at reconciliation must be developed in cooperation with an attorney. Attorneys are not mandated reporters, and they can help the accused reduce the risks of attempting reconciliation.

Even when prosecution cannot be avoided, a pro-active course can lead to a plea bargain for a lenient sentence. If the accusation is accurate, the accused can begin sex offender treatment even before prosecution, impressing court, prosecutor, and victim with their eagerness to reform. But the accused should not begin sex offender treatment before seeing an attorney.

When Early Prosecution is Desirable for the Accused

If the accused is younger than 18, there’s a completely different reason that keeping quiet can be unwise.

In many states—such as Washington, where we have our offices—juvenile offenders are treated much more leniently than adult offenders. The focus in juvenile court is commonly more on rehabilitation than on punishment, and there are often rules that protect juvenile offenders from the long-term damage that adults sustain when they get a sex offense record. 

If a person is prosecuted as a juvenile, they cannot be later prosecuted as an adult for the same crime. But once a person has turned 18, they no longer fall within juvenile court jurisdiction; they can only be prosecuted as an adult. And we have seen that prosecutors generally have no compunction about prosecuting as adults persons who committed their crimes as juveniles, even though the late prosecution exposes the persons to much harsher penalties. 

It can thus be an excellent legal strategy for a juvenile to confess to the police a crime that is, until that point, completely unknown to the police. We have seen this play out very well for an accused young person.

Here, too, the accused teen and their family need the guidance of an attorney willing to make a careful analysis of the risks and benefits of a pro-active course.

Contact An Attorney FIRST!

Above all, it is vital you contact an attorney as soon as you learn you are accused of a sex crime. 

The best attorneys are not merely knowledgeable about the law. They are also compassionate and wise. 

The Marshall Defense Firm can provide you that kind of attorney. With years of experience representing those accused of sex crimes, the Marshall Defense Firm can advise you on your options and, if needed, can represent you in defense against an accusation. 

Contact us at 206.826.1400 or solutions@marshalldefense.com to schedule a consultation.

Confer with us in good health! You may choose to confer with us by Zoom or telephone to avoid Covid risk. Please phone us at 206.826.1400 to schedule your conference.