An accusation of child molestation is as grave a crisis as a person can face. The accused needs to look immediately for an attorney with the experience and skill to defend such a case well. The emotions of juries and even judges can easily be inflamed by the nature of the conduct alleged. It’s a great challenge to lead juries and judges past their initial reaction and to the right decision.
An accusation of child molestation carries tremendous stigma. At the Marshall Defense Firm, we understand that such allegations can cause society, and even family and friends, to scorn you.
No matter what the evidence, we don’t judge you. We are on your side.
False Accusations of Child Abuse
In few criminal cases is the risk of a false accusation as great as it is in child molestation cases. And the risk of a wrongful conviction is great, too. The danger of inflamed emotions is compounded by the lack of evidence common in child molestation cases.
In many child molestation prosecutions, there is no evidence but the statements of the complaining child and any statements the accused has made (even if he has made no statement before trial, the accused has the right to testify. The accused should consult with an attorney before making any statement to anyone about the accusation). It is also common for adults who side against the accused to say that they remember the accused acting strangely in the child’s presence, or the child seeming to avoid the accused—but usually these adults said nothing of the sort until the accusation was made.
When there is little evidence against the accused but the statements of a child, our investigation searches for reasons for the child to make a false accusation. We develop evidence supporting those reasons. We consult with psychologists and experts in child interviewing to make sure no stone is unturned in our fight to protect the accused’s liberty and restore their reputation.
Anyone who spends time with children is at risk of a child molestation accusation. That means parents and other family members, of course, but also teachers, daycare workers, pastors, coaches, scout leaders, health care providers, and even neighbors.
Child Molestation Law in Washington
In Washington State, sex offenses that depend on the victim’s youth are generally divided between rape of a child and child molestation. Both crimes are classified in three degrees, depending on the age of the victim.
Child molestation occurs when someone has, or knowingly causes another person to have, sexual contact with a person who is younger than sixteen. “Sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party.
The three degrees of child molestation:
- First degree: the victim is less than twelve years old, and the perpetrator is at least three years older than the victim.
- Second degree: the victim is at least twelve years old but less than fourteen years old, and the perpetrator is at least three years older than the victim.
- Third degree: the victim is at least fourteen years old but less than sixteen years old, not married to the perpetrator, and the perpetrator is at least four years older than the victim.
Maximum Penalties for Child Molestation
- First Degree: Class A felony which can be punished by up to life in prison and a fine of $50,000
- Second Degree: Class B felony which can be punished by up to ten years in prison and a fine of $20,000
- Third Degree: Class C felony which can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000
Likely Penalties for Child Molestation
Few offenders receive the maximum penalty when found guilty of child molestation.
Some receive the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative. This usually includes a year in jail, but a few SSOSA offenders receive more than a year, and a few receive much less.
Offenders who don’t receive SSOSA usually receive a sentence within the Standard Sentencing Range established by Washington law. The Standard Sentencing Range in each case depends on the number of counts (criminal incidents) of which the accused is found guilty, the degree of Child Molestation in those counts, and the offender’s prior criminal record.
For example, a person with no prior criminal record would have a Standard Sentencing Range of 51-68 months in custody if found guilty of one count of child molestation in the first degree, or 6-12 months if found guilty of one count of child molestation in the third degree.
Penalties can be increased if the prosecutor charges and proves any of several aggravating factors set out by law.
Community Custody and Sex Offender Registration
Child molestation convictions have other life-changing consequences.
After serving whatever time in custody is ordered, the offender will be on “community custody,” akin to parole, for years—in many cases, for life. Persons on community custody must get permission to travel (even to leave the county) and are prohibited from going places where children congregate, such as schools, parks, playgrounds, and ballfields. They are also prohibited from living near such places. They usually must undergo periodic polygraph (lie detector) tests to see whether they have been obeying the rules of their community custody.
Everyone convicted of child molestation is also required to register with the sheriff as a sex offender. Law enforcement officers will then go to the offender’s home periodically to confirm that he or she lives there. Neighbors often learn that a person is a registered sex offender, leading to more stigma.
Particular Challenges in Defending against Child Molestation Charges
With this much on the line, it is essential to defend vigorously and intelligently.
At The Marshall Defense Firm, we have focused for decades on child molestation and other child sex abuse cases. No two cases are alike, but we use the same approach to most special-assault cases.
To defend against child molestation charges, an attorney must be willing to delve into sex and other sensitive topics, even with small children. Under Washington law, the defense attorney is permitted to interview the complaining child. This interview is often where our attorneys win our clients’ cases. This interview needs to be conducted by an attorney who has a skill not likely to be developed except by handling many child abuse cases. Since our firm focuses on child abuse cases, our attorneys have this skill.
Responding to What the Child Says During the Police Investigation
Most child molestation charges arise when a child tells someone—a friend, a parent, a teacher, a neighbor—that she or he has been abused. The initial report leads to a police investigation, and in Washington that usually includes an interview by someone trained in investigative interviewing of children. Child interviewers throughout Washington are usually trained to follow the interview guide created at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
But interviewing children is difficult, even for persons trained to do it. Every interviewer suffers from what psychologists call “confirmation bias”—the natural tendency to look for information that supports an idea and to overlook information that contradicts it. This means the child interviewers used by the police are unavoidably biased against the accused. Even the best-intentioned interviewers can introduce or suggest facts which the child will adopt and report as things that happened.
The child’s interview is usually audio- and video-recorded. At The Marshall Defense Firm, we know the best practices in child interviewing. We also work closely with leading experts in forensic interviewing and psychology to spot instances of suggestion or leading and evidence of false memories.
What it’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner
Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.
Then there’s our experience. For decades we have defended those accused of child molestation. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these cases, we have exceptional skill.
And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.
Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we step into court to defend you, we are ready to do it well.