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Why Do Sexual Assault Cases Go to Jury Trial?

Posted By Berry Law Firm || 23-Aug-2016

It is exceedingly common for sexual assault cases to go to jury trial in Nebraska. There are three major reasons why:

1. The consequences of a sexual assault conviction are severe and life altering.

2. Sexual assault cases often have greater odds of success at trial than other criminal cases.

3. False sexual assault allegations.

Sexual assault allegations can permanently affect a person’s reputation and future. There are few labels worse than “rapist” or “sexual predator.” Many of the accused are willing to go to jury trial in hopes of saving their personal and professional reputations and relationships. Hiring a criminal defense attorney and fighting the case every inch of the way is the only option these people will consider. They see a jury trial or dismissal as the only way to restore their reputations. To them, consequences of conviction are irrelevant because they feel the destruction of their reputation is far more damaging that what a judge can do to them.

However, even if reputation is not a criminal defendant’s top concern there are still several reasons to take a sexual assault case to trial.

A person charged with sexual assault faces the possibility of lengthy incarceration and registering as a sex offender. In more severe cases, a person charged with sexual assault may also face the possibility of civil commitment. Considering these consequences, most of our clients would rather fight than work out a plea agreement making them a sex offender or convicted felon or requiring them to spend a lot of time in prison.

On occasion, we have been able to secure favorable plea agreements for our clients, allowing them to avoid sex offender registration, felony convictions, or prison sentences. In some counties in Nebraska, if a prosecutor recommends a sentence of probation, the judge will likely follow the sentencing recommendation. In Lancaster County, prosecutors will not agree to sentencing recommendations. The lack of certainty at sentencing is usually a big road block for a plea agreement. No one wants to make a deal where the end result is unknown, especially if it carries the possibility of a 50 year sentence.

In many sexual assault cases, the issue is not one of brutal forced penetration, but instead whether there was valid consent. This is the date rape allegation: a he-said-she-said situation in which the alleged victim claims to have been too intoxicated to consent. And even though both the accused and the alleged victim consumed a large amount of alcohol that night, the accused is held responsible for his or her actions while the other party is not. Unfortunately, when the public sees a person as a registered sex offender, the image that comes to mind is an evil, calculating, brutal rapist who intentionally harmed someone. In reality, sometimes the sexual assault case was about a dispute as to whether one intoxicated individual was sober enough to give valid consent to another.

Sexual assault cases are winnable. Unlike many DUI and drug cases in which the primary witnesses are cops, most witnesses called to the stand during sexual assault cases are unprofessional and unpaid. That’s right - cops are professional witnesses. They are on duty and paid when they take the witness stand. Police officers may appear on the stand hundreds if not thousands of times during their careers, so they are often good at testifying. Juries tend to put a lot of weight on an officer’s testimony because juries tend to think police officers have no motive to lie and have no interest in the outcome of a case.

Sexual assault cases are unique among criminal cases because both the accused and the victim usually have little experience testifying. A lawyers cross-examination skills can effectively expose a false sexual assault allegation. A good investigation or deposition of an alleged victim may reveal truths about the case not found during the police investigation and raise reasonable doubt.

Finally, false sexual assault allegations happen. The first question a Berry Law Firm criminal defense attorney asks his clients in a sexual assault case is, “Why would the alleged victim lie about this?” Sometimes the issue is the jealously of a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it’s part of a shakedown to get money. Other times someone is cheating on a significant other and uses the allegation to cover up a consensual relationship. While some false sexual assault allegations fall apart during an investigation, others do not fall apart until jury trial.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a sexual or domestic assault and need(s) legal counsel, call 402-466-8444 to speak with a member of our team.