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Modern Day Witch Hunt: Child Sexual Abuse Cases

I just learned of a person I used to know being accused of some type of sexual abuse of a child. Curiously, several years ago, he worked on a job with two main laborers in addition to a foreman.

Both of the laborers have now been accused of sexual abuse of a child. One has been sitting in jail awaiting trial well over a year.

I don't know the details of this accusation, but I have known the details of a number of these types of cases over the years. I have tried several of these cases. I have won acquittals. I lost one trial. I have represented several men who plead guilty.

I once analyzed numbers in the local newspaper for convictions for sexual child abuse in the county. I looked up the population of the county. I assumed that the typical male has an adult life time of roughly 50 years. I calculated that over 50 years, if the rate of conviction continued unchanged, every adult male in the county would be convicted of child sexual abuse.

It takes very, very little evidence to get one of these cases started. Some cases are instigated by vindictive ex wives. Some are instigated by family lawyers or school nurses. Many believe that financial incentives exist for District Attorneys, Child Advocacy Centers, CPS, and others to instigate these cases.

In one instance, a Child Advocacy Center employee asked a child three times whether her grandfather touched her within a huge circle (all the way from the belly button to the knees). The child said "no" three times. The employee asked a fourth time. The child moved her head up and down just the slightest. The employee said "yes" not the child. Undoubtedly, the employee was off camera shaking his head up and down. The child was following the employee's head thus her head went up and down a little. I have seen a prosecutor use this same "trick" in open court. This employee was later accused of fraud in connection with the child advocacy center (receiving unearned pay).

One man in Webb County was sentenced to life in prison based on the statements of a mentally disabled 2 year old child (3 years old at time of trial). The child was considered competent to testify because he knew his dog's name and various colors. I talked to the defense lawyer in that case. He said the child's mother had admitted to her sister that she was going to fabricate a false allegation. I am not sure if the jury ever heard that.

Recently, a Corpus Christi lawyer received an over 10 million dollar judgment, because his ex wife set him up for a false allegation. Fortunately, he was able to prove this. He testified that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees to do this. Of course, most accused persons don't have that kind of money. His divorce lawyer testified that the wife's lawyer told him "we don't have to worry about that case any more because your client is being indicted this afternoon." These allegations are sometimes used as a tool in ugly divorces. This tool can be very effective.

Several times, in cases I have worked on, children have reported that family lawyers asked them to lie about their parent touching them improperly. In one instance, when I tried to address this to protect my client, the judge ruled that it was frivolous to believe the child (an obviously false proposition of law). The child's statements were strongly corroborated. Of course, if the child had lied as requested, the child likely would have been believed. This is a very ugly area. It later turned out one of the lawyers who asked the child to lie was the judge's personal lawyer and friend.

One man reported that he was falsely accused by his ex wife and her lawyers of child sexual abuse 14 times. I was personally involved with some of those accusations, and I never saw any evidence to support the accusations. It only takes an accusation to create years and many thousands of dollars of legal problems. He fortunately never went to prison but his life was disrupted for well over a decade. Those who make false accusations rarely suffer any consequences (the judgment referenced above is an exception). Usually, they benefit sometimes financially (e.g. victim's assistance funds) often by hurting people they want to hurt or by excluding the other parent from the child's life.

Of course, I am not saying that sexual abuse of children never occurs. I had one client who openly admitted to his crimes. He wrote letters to the judge admitting his guilt (obviously against my advice). It does happen. However, it is also true that lots of false allegations happen also.

There is probably no area of criminal law more abused and more dangerous to innocents than this area.

First, these cases often arise in divorces and other contexts where people seek to hurt other people. Second, these cases often involve children who are manipulated into making these accusations (one child psychologist characterized this as "horrific child abuse"). Third, you have an entire well funded "industry" that exists to support and prosecute these cases. Fourth, all doubts as a practical matter tend to be resolved in favor of the accusation and the accused usually is "expendable." There is no other area where the presumption of innocence is weaker.

My main advice right now is to be very, very careful. There is no type of case that can more easily ruin an innocent person's life. No physical evidence is necessary linking you to the crime, and in fact no physical evidence is even necessary that a crime occurred. Often, an alibi is impossible because there is no specific date and time. Sometimes, if there is a specific date and time and you have an alibi, they will just change the date and time. There is a "greased chute" in support of these cases. Once the case starts it has a momentum sometimes unstoppable, and these cases are difficult to defend. Again, the advice is to be very careful.

Unfortunately, you probably should avoid children to a large extent. Children in a perfect world should have relationships with all kinds of adults in all kinds of contexts. However, in this world as it exists today, prudence dictates that adults exercise caution with respect to children. This may mean avoiding children again which is unfortunate. The "solution" to child sexual abuse (aggressive prosecution of weak cases with no physical evidence) may cause more harm than the problem itself.

One particularly dangerous situation is a girlfriend or wife with children from a previous relationship. No matter how much she might seem like a good addition to your life maybe prudence dictates avoiding this situation. Again, sad but good advice.