Five Things You Must Do Next
1. Realize How Much Trouble You Could Be In
When they are first accused of sexual assault, many innocent people naively assume they have nothing to fear. They assume justice and truth will line up without much work on their part to vindicate them. That’s a dangerous way to think.
Officers and courts want to punish someone to give the victim a sense of closure and show the public that a dangerous predator is now off the street, even if that someone is not the perpetrator—or the victim is not a victim at all.
Unfortunately, many innocent people don’t realize the error of their ways until they’re wearing prison orange. Prosecutors, police, juries, and family courts usually begin a sexual assault case sympathetic to the victim. Not taking accusations seriously is an express ticket to jail and the sex offender registry.
New Jersey treats sexual assault as one of the most heinous crimes. The penalties for sex crimes make homicide charges look like a slap on the wrist. Beyond the prison sentence—which can span over a quarter of a decade—someone convicted of sexual assault, rape, or similar crimes will be registered as a sex offender, branded as a pervert and a public enemy to the day they die.
Under New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law”, once convicted of a sex crime you will be on a public database, monitored by police, required to verify your location every three months to a year. You may also be barred from many kinds of employment. Once accused of a sex crime, you need to fight back from day one.
2. Do Your Homework – Find a Great Defense Lawyer
If you are formally accused of sexual assault you will need a lawyer. And not just any lawyer, but an experienced defense attorney with a track record of beating similar charges.
There are times in life when budget service will do. Facing a lifetime of shame and surveillance? A quarter of a century behind bars? That is definitely not the time to go bargain hunting. Don’t trust your life to the first name in the phone book or the flashiest TV ad.
Read up on any lawyers you are considering, including their background and their victories. Choose a lawyer who has experience defending against sexual assault allegations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t settle on a lawyer you don’t feel comfortable with. If you choose poorly the first time, there is no guarantee of a second chance. Your lawyer’s personality is important too, since you will be working closely with the man or woman you choose though some of the most difficult days of your life.
3. Watch What You Say and Don’t Contact the Alleged Victim
Far too many people innocently reach out to the person who accused them and end up in serious trouble. This is especially when the “victim” is a spouse or a former lover. Don’t try to explain the misunderstanding. Don’t apologize, or offer to make amends. And whatever you do, don’t threaten them or try to convince them to drop the allegation.
Doing any of the above is a fast track to criminal charges or a restraining order and looks very bad if you end up before a jury.
Never allow police to question you without your lawyer present. Even if they offer to help clear your name. Even if they say they are just looking for the truth. Detectives can and will say almost anything if they think it will make you cooperate. Police want incriminating evidence, and answering their questions without legal counsel is like building your own gallows. Don’t do it.
4. Cooperate With Your Lawyer
A good legal defense is a team effort. Your lawyer will do his part to defend you, but even the best lawyer will be handicapped if you don’t do your part too.
Does your lawyer need a document signed or records faxed over? Do it as soon as possible.
Does your lawyer want you to schedule a polygraph or meet a psychologist? These experts can be important in asserting your innocence and possibly having the case dismissed.
The more cooperatively you work with your legal team, the better they will be able to defend you.
5. Avoid Compromising Situations
Your behavior and character will be under scrutiny by the police and the prosecutor’s office. If the case becomes a public scandal, the press will cast their lot in too. Avoid doing anything that could be twisted to look aggressive or dishonest. If you are in a position at work or through volunteering that places you near minors, always have another adult present. Refrain from drunken behavior. Don’t start arguments. Don’t loiter or act suspicious.
And if possible, avoid social media. Twitter and Facebook make it easy to torpedo your own defense, in 140 characters or less. Avoid the temptation to comment on your situation—you never know who might be watching.
Fight for Your Freedom
No general guide can substitute for dedicated legal counsel, but I hope you have a better picture of what to expect if you are facing sexual assault allegations in New Jersey. For an innocent citizen facing these heinous allegations, acting wisely and decisively can be the difference between freedom and prison.
If you are facing false sexual assault charges in South Jersey, Aita Law LLC would be glad to offer a free consultation to review your case. With over 25 years of legal experience, criminal defense attorney Kenneth D. Aita is dedicated to offering his clients the strongest defense possible. Call (856) 287-7800 to schedule a consultation.