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Accused of a California Sex Crime?

Posted by attorney Paul Takakjian

As a former sex crimes prosecutor who has defended individuals charged with sex offenses for more than 25 years, I'm often asked what steps a person should take when he learns that he is the focus of a sex crime investigation in California. Naturally, most people react to this kind of news with a great deal of concern. This is natural and to be expected.

It's important to understand that, particularly in the arena of sex crimes, the general public takes the view that anyone accused of a sex crime is guilty until proven innocent, instead of the other way around. The high degree of sensationalism surrounding these cases brings with it an erroneous presumption of guilt, particularly when the news media get involved, as is always the case when a teacher, coach, government official, or celebrity is charged. Just think: Jerry Sandusky. He was convicted in the court of public opinion long before a jury was even empaneled to hear his case.

The most important thing to do is to refrain from speaking about the case to friends, family, or even to therapists, who are so-called "mandated reporters" which means that if you disclose that you've molested a child to your therapist, he or she is required to report this to the authorities, upon pain of losing his or her license to practice. If you speak to friends or family - even to your spouse - you may risk creating a new prosecution witness for the police, even if you think that you can trust your confidant.

The second thing to do is not to speak with anyone on the telephone about the case, particularly the alleged victim. More often than not, the police are legally monitoring and tape recording your conversation. If the "victim" says to you on the telephone - "I don't want to go to the police, but I need to have you apologize for molesting me so that I can forgive you and move on," you can bet that a detective is listening and recording every word you say, and your pauses and your silence as well! If the alleged victim calls, it's best to say, "I'm sorry but I cannot speak with you," and quickly hang up the telephone.

The third thing to do is to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can speak with him or her in complete confidence, knowing that anything you say will be protected by an attorney-client privilege. Unlike a therapist, your attorney will not "dime you out" or turn you over to the authorities. Make sure you are dealing with an attorney who is experienced in this area of the law. The consequences of making a mistake on one of these cases could be disastrous, as the punishments are huge, and the secondary consequences, such as lifetime registration as a sex offender, are significant as well.

Once you've engaged an attorney, listen to and follow his or her advice. Your liberty is at stake here, and you want to make sure that you are not relying on your own instincts to navigate these difficult waters.

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