What to Do if Investigated for, or Charged with, a Sexual Offense.

Sex crimes, especially those involving charges of sexual assault, are among the most serious on the books, and if you are facing such charges, you need experienced legal help immediately. Depending on the jurisdiction, how these crimes are defined and the potential penalties they carry can vary, but their serious consequences require an early, aggressive response.

The offenses may differ on such factors as the degree of consent, the absolute or relative ages of the parties, or special characteristics of the alleged victim (such youth or old age, or physical or mental impairment). If you are caught up in an investigation or are facing charges, it's crucially important to have knowledgeable legal advice and assistance as early as possible.

Forcible rape, for example, can carry life sentences, and in some cases may not even permit the possibility of parole. Statutory rape, which involves relations with a minor below the state-set legal age of consent, often carries lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, and can bring a life sentence. Various other types of misconduct, often characterized as sexual assault, can be classified as felonies or misdemeanors.

While most offenses are prosecuted by state or local authorities, certain crimes – such as child pornography – typically bring in federal law enforcement. Certain types of violations – such as those related to mistreatment of children or the elderly, or sexual misconduct affecting students or staff in a federally-supported educational institution, can result in officials from other agencies trying to visit your home (you do not have to let them in, and shouldn't without first checking with your lawyer). They can also bring administrative-style actions that, while falling short of criminal charges, can nevertheless have serious consequences (and which may offer an accused lower procedural and substantive protections than would a criminal court proceeding).

Do not let an investigation or a criminal charge proceed, in the hope your innocence will be evident, and quickly recognized by the system you're facing. Unfortunately, the goal of law enforcement will be to establish a case against you, not to exonerate you. It's also a serious mistake not to mount the most aggressive defense you can, of your constitutional rights, your reputation, and your freedom.

In many sexual assault cases, a key issue is whether there was mutual consent, which often is a factual question far less than clear cut. Law enforcers frequently will use tricks or deceit, inviting you to ''tell your side of the story,'' when their true intent is to gather evidence against you, or find inaccuracies or inconsistencies in your statements to cast doubt on your reliability. They probably won't warn you of your constitutional rights before taking you into custody, at which point you might already have mistakenly said far more than you should have, in an almost always futile attempt to persuade them of your innocence.

It's not uncommon to find law enforcers asking persons you know to call you to discuss a complaint before you are charged, in the hopes of getting you to make apologies or other statements than can later be used against you in court. You may also receive unsolicited advice on what you should do from well-meaning ''experts'' who lack an understanding of the legal consequences of their advice.

Faced with all these possible pitfalls, the only sound way to protect your rights and your liberty is to say only that you are facing false but serious accusations, and on the advice of your lawyer, will not discuss these issues without the lawyer's advice and presence.

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