Sexual Assault Investigation Process
When someone is accused of sexual assault then they are generally accused of one of the following:
- unwanted sexual touching
- sexual groping
- attempted rape
- unwanted penetration
- forcing a person to perform sexual act
For these to be considered sexual assault, they must occur without consent or when the victim does not have the ability to consent, whether that be due to a mental illness, age, or temporary incapacitation. The exact laws and punishment vary from state to state, and the specific details of sexual assault statutes in Nebraska can be found here.
Sexual Assault Investigation Process and the Role of Law Enforcement
When law enforcement investigates crimes, they don’t presume the accused is innocent. It’s not their job.
When the police are asked to investigate a crime, their responsibility is to find a culpable party and find the evidence necessary to prove guilt. As a result, the sexual assault investigation process can take an aggressive stance toward the accused. When law enforcement receives information about a possible sexual or domestic assault, they will often speak with the victim, witnesses, and acquaintances before questioning the accused.
In many cases, investigators will wait until they feel that they have enough information to conduct a successful interrogation of their target before even contacting the accused. Those people accused of sexual crimes are often surprised or shocked that they are under investigation as the alleged criminal act may have occurred days or weeks before investigators contact the accused.
Law enforcement agencies use a variety of techniques to investigate sexual assault crimes, and many people accused of sexual assault are shocked by police conduct during their investigations.
Here are some common occurrences during a sexual assault investigation:
- Police discreetly record conversations between the accused and the alleged victim
- Police lie to the accused during the interrogation or make false representation
- Police send text messages to the accused from the alleged victim’s phone to try and elicit an apology or an incriminating response
People accused of sexual assaults, especially those with no prior criminal history or contact with law enforcement, are amazed how one-sided the investigation process can be.
For example, few people know that it is perfectly legal for the police to lie during an interview or interrogation. But if the accused citizen lies during an interview or interrogation, several bad things might happen:
- The accused will be charged with a separate crime: Providing false information to law enforcement.
- The information will be used against the accused at trial to paint the accused as a liar and destroy his credibility.
The bottom line: Sexual assault investigators aggressively pursue their suspect.
Often when a suspect tries to tell the truth during an investigation, the statements will be misconstrued, misinterpreted, and later used against the suspect, especially if there are any inconsistencies in the statement.
The accused might unknowingly corroborate a victim’s story by providing what, at first glance, appears to be unimportant details. The accused may admit simply to being in the same location as the victim or may admit having contact with the victim but state that the contact was consensual.
When an accused confirms any part of the victim’s version of the events – even innocent details – investigators can use those admissions against the accused. Relentless investigators tie the small details into a larger picture to create corroboration.
Sexual assault investigations are scary. The accused rarely knows he or she is being investigated until the investigation is near completion. By the time investigators talk to the accused, they have usually decided whether they intend to make an arrest. However, there are times when the investigator, hoping to produce enough information to make an arrest, will contact and interrogate the accused to try to reach for information. Worried about his or her reputation and future, the accused may reason that if he just tells police what they want to hear, then the investigation and potential charges will disappear.
The decisions the accused makes at this point are critical; a bad decision could result in a felony conviction, prison time, and/or lifetime on the sex-offender registry.
Criminal Defense Attorneys in Sexual Assault Cases
A few questions may come to mind when experiencing or researching sexual assault investigations. Questions such as, “Well, what about equal protection under the law?” or “What about my rights?” or “What about investigating my innocence?” or “What about the presumption of innocence?”. Although these are all important, they may not be handled the same way by law enforcement. A primary function of criminal defense attorneys is to:
- protect your constitutional rights
- ensure your case has been investigated properly
- raise reasonable doubt about the allegations
Fortunately, the accused has the right to hire a criminal defense attorney at any point in the process. Some people hire criminal defense attorneys as soon as they learn of an allegation, some wait until they’ve been contacted by law enforcement, and others wait until they’ve been arrested. The earlier a criminal defense attorney can get involved in a case, the more likely it is that they can minimize damage and obtain a favorable outcome for the accused. Criminal defense attorneys hired early in the investigation can advise clients about their rights and how to assert and protect those rights. Timely advice is critical in assisting the accused in determining what he or she should and should not do.
Possible Outcomes of the Sexual Assault Investigation Process
People who are the target of a sexual assault investigation process often feel helpless and overwhelmed. They want to know what will happen and when it will happen. Fortunately, criminal defense attorneys can advise the accused about the potential outcomes and which actions and non-actions will put the accused in the best position possible to receive favorable results.
Penalties and outcomes of trial can vary from case to case and judge to judge. Berry Law’s sex assault attorneys are experienced in these types of cases and can help fight sex assault charges. Using the guidelines from the Nebraska Legislature, a few penalties are clearly codified:
- sexual assault in the first degree is considered a Class II felony (punishable by up to 20 years in prison).
- sexual assault in the second degree is considered a Class IIA felony if serious personal injury is caused to the accuser (punishable by up to four years in prison).
- sexual assault in the third degree is considered a Class I misdemeanor if no serious personal injury is caused to the accuser (punishable by up to one year in jail).
Prosecutors can charge one count for each instance where a crime was occurred. As an example, if a victim alleges three instances of sexual assault throughout the course of a night, the prosecutor can file three separate charges.
Many details of the case and the circumstances of the situation can lead to different charges. It is best to consult a criminal defense attorney to see what charges you are facing and what your best course of action. Criminal defense lawyers can give you a more accurate depictions of possible penalties on a case by case basis.
The sexual assault investigation process can be overwhelming, especially if you believe you have been falsely accused. Berry Law’s sexual assault attorneys may be able to help you. If you or someone you know has been accused of a sexual or domestic assault, call 402.466.8444 today for a consultation.