Having children is stressful. There is no doubt. As a mother of four, I constantly sit back and reflect on what it’s like to have a 6, 7, 9 and 10 year old. But my friends all say the same thing…”Bigger kids mean bigger problems.”
And I see that in my work. Too often. Recently my office has been representing an influx of young people – teenagers and college students -- accused of sex crimes and criminal sexual conduct. The stakes in these cases are high, the consequences are far more than most parents and kids imagine, and the results can be forever life-changing. For that reason, I will share with you the top ten things you need to know.
1. Shut up. It’s that simple. Get to a lawyer as fast as you can and do not talk. While parents want to know every detail and in and out of what did or did not happen, this is not advisable. By talking to your child, teenager or college student, you are making yourself a witness. The best advice is to stop – get to a lawyer – and sort things out from there. The consequences are too high to think you can work an issue like criminal sexual conduct allegations out on your own. The best advice – don’t try.
2. Collect information. Start with Facebook, Twitter, texts. Collect all of the contact that has taken place between the alleged victim and the accused. Never make a fake profile or trick an alleged victim or a witness, however, collect as much as you can to show the context of things that were talked about and the relationship between the parties.
3. The police are not there to help you. The police are there to investigate an alleged crime. Talking to them as if they are your friend is not helpful. Decline any interview until you have hired a lawyer. Often, at Smith Blythe, we take clients in to make statements at the police department. This is typically in situations where our clients have been falsely accused and have valuable information to share with the police to hopefully stop potential charges from coming.
4. Decline a polygraph until you have consulted a lawyer. Polygraphs are often used by law enforcement as an investigation tool, not a tool to determine the truth of a situation. When you hire our office, we will explain to you how we use polygraphs to help, however, no lawyer will or should advise you to submit to a police polygraph. Additionally, some counties, including Macomb County, will ignore a police polygraph even when a client passes with their examiner. A few years ago we represented a man who had another lawyer when he passed the police polygraph. Macomb still would not drop charges. There is no benefit to engaging in a police polygraph unless there are agreements in place that will be enforceable if you do pass.
5. Do not talk to the alleged victim – everything you say can and will be used against you. It is perfectly legal for the police to wire an alleged victim and have them call you to see what you have to say. Saying innocuous things can be easily twisted. The best advice is to simply not talk. Do not apologize. Do not explain yourself. Stop talking. Period.
6. Don’t feel confident that there is “no evidence.” In Michigan criminal sexual conduct cases, the word of a complainant is enough evidence to proceed forward on a case. The police and prosecution are not required to supply corroborative evidence. The jury is actually instructed that the word of an alleged victim is enough evidence if the jury believes it beyond a reasonable doubt. So although there may be no DNA, no eye witnesses, nothing…..do not get too confident. Any allegation of criminal sexual conduct must be taken seriously.
7. Do not hire a general practitioner. Sex crimes are special cases. The stakes are high and the client is presumed guilty, no matter what the law says. It is critical to hire an attorney with experience in sex crimes, for many reasons. The psychology of these cases is highly specific. Finding a specialist will make an enormous difference versus a general practitioner.
8. You need a lawyer who can understand other issues that may arise – school disciplinary hearings, Title IX proceedings, Child Protective Services issues, licensing complaints, etc. Unlike other crimes, criminal sexual conduct cases come with a variety of other collateral issues that can be very important. Many of our cases involve school disciplinary issues, Title IX proceedings, CPS involvement and issues with a person’s license to work. We have experience navigating all of these facets and can answer any questions about the overlap in these cases.
9. Abstain from social media and talking to friends. This is a hard one for many of our young clients. Absolutely do not post on any social media. Do not attempt to defend yourself. It does not help and can be twisted against you. We will come up a defense strategy when we meet – but in zero cases do we recommend posting to social media.
10. Understand that this will be time consuming, frustrating, unfair, and expensive. We have to be honest with you….this will take longer to sort out than you hope for. It will frustrate you. It will feel unfair. And, it will cost you money for our time to help. Hiring a good lawyer and attacking the case from the beginning, however, can mean the difference between lifelong consequences for you and your family. The stakes are simply too high when allegations of criminal sexual conduct are made.
Please call our office if you need help. 248.636.2595