In North Carolina, sexual offenses are similar to the violent offenses in many ways. In other ways, they are very different. Since the 1970’s this area of law has changed dramatically. Because awareness of these types of crimes has grown, the procedures have changed for law enforcement officials. Sexual offenses include such crimes as rape and statutory sex offense. These types of offenses are almost always felonies. In most cases, a conviction for a sex offense is punishable by a substantial prison sentence for even those with no criminal records. Convicted sex offenders are required to register with the state. The registered sex offenders are required to notify local authorities of their residence so that the public will be aware they live in the same vicinity as a convicted sexual offender. Those registries are published and available to anyone on the internet or through other informational outlets. This registration can subject a person to almost unbearable scrutiny and hatred.
A Word of Caution
Sex crimes are among the most vigorously prosecuted crimes in the state. It you are or think you might be charged with a sexual offense, it is critical that you retain an experienced criminal attorney immediately. If possible, that attorney should have experience trying sexual offenses in front of juries (not just entered a plea of guilty on behalf of his or her client). That attorney should have also represented sexual offenders on appeal. There are subtle differences in sex offense cases that are realized only through experience. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know the opportunities and obstacles presented by a sexual offense case.
For example, the surrender or arrest of a personal charged with a sexual offense is absolutely critical. In almost every sexual offense case, the defendant makes a harmful statement at or subsequent to arrest. Many times this is because the defendant thinks they can explain their way out of a situation or because they misunderstand the law. Law enforcement will encourage and in some cases pressure a defendant to come clean and admit to certain conduct for the benefit of the alleged victim or for some other moral reason. A law enforcement officer may say, “We know you did not want to hurt anyone? You just made a mistake. We just need to know what happened.” Defendant’s feel like if they admit it then everything will be alright and they can go home. Many times that admission will result in a conviction and a lengthy prison sentence.
There are also important distinctions to consider in a sexual offense trial. For example, in a sexual offense trial the “victim” will probably testify. The cross-examination of a sexual offense “victim” is dramatically different from other types of cross-examinations. The prosecutor, judge and jury may be particularly protective. This protective instinct must be factored into your trial strategy. Of course, victims of sexual assault must be protected. However, as a defendant you have to be able to ask the questions necessary to develop your theory of defense or to demonstrate any reasonable doubt that exists as to your guilt.
There is another important consideration in these types of case. Generally, our legal system affords the presumption of innocence to those charged with crimes. Even those charged with murder enjoy such protections. In theory, sexual offense defendants are accorded the same protections. In reality, it is hard for people to hear such terrible accusations and not draw some inference of guilt. The effect of this phenomenon is that many sexual offense defendants must actually prove their innocence. While this is not the law, it is in many ways the reality of the world in which we live.