Family violence and child sex assault cases share something in common: they often rely solely on the word of a complainant. They are “He said/She said” cases. When I meet a potential client in these cases, I am often asked: “How could the police arrest me? There wasn’t any evidence…”
The evidence in these cases is the word of the complainant. If a complainant tells police a crime took place—such as one spouse claiming the other assaulted them—then that is all the evidence police need to make an arrest.
If a complainant testifies at trial that an offense occurred—such as a child claiming the defendant sexually assaulted them—then that is all the evidence a jury needs to believe in order to convict.
All of this raises a question… How good are humans at being lie detectors? How effective are police or jurors in discerning whether a complainant is being truthful?
As it turns out, not very good.
Police and juries “read” body language, displays of emotion, facial expressions, mannerisms, and ways of speaking and believe they can trust their “gut”. They believe that if an accused averts their gaze, touches their nose, chews a fingernail, strokes the back of their head, slouches, or fidgets, then they are likely lying and thus guilty.
But almost all scientific studies find that this mindset is counterproductive and can even reduce the accuracy of judgments. People under stress—and someone wrongly accused certainly qualifies—can behave in ways that are impossible to distinguish from people who are lying.
So how does a good criminal defense lawyer convince jurors that a complainant should not be trusted in a domestic violence or child sex assault case?
By impeaching the complainant. This begins with the criminal attorney making a thorough investigation and finding arrows for his quiver. Then, at trial, these arrows can be fired at the complainant.
For example, in one of my trials, I represented a defendant who had been accused by two different complainants of child sex abuse. I learned through investigation that the two complainants had threatened to carry out a Columbine-style school shooting, and the defendant (my client) had told them he was going to turn them in—and then the two suddenly cried rape. When I confronted the complainants with their motive at trial, they admitted to making the threats. The jury acquitted my client, even though there were two complainants.
The moral of the story: ALWAYS consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you’ve been accused of a crime, no matter how little evidence you think the prosecution has. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can handle it on your own.
If you’ve been charged with family violence, sexual assault, or another crime in the Houston area, contact me today to schedule your consultation.