In part I of this blog post, I discussed the origins of the #MeToo movement and how it has impacted criminal jury trials in this country. Also discussed was the fact that sexual assault jurors are overwhelmingly aware of the #MeToo movement. Therefore, it is incredibly important to frame the issue with the jurors from the first moment you have the opportunity to talk to them in jury selection through asking specific questions designed to distinguish your case from what they are aware of in the media at large.
The Reality of Sexual Abuse Cases
A defendant in a sexual assault case should start off presumed innocent under our laws, but the reality in practice is much different. Jurors are usually well-intentioned: they come into a trial with a sense of civic duty, with curiosity about the facts of the case, and a desire to do the right thing. A juror can absolutely say they believe that someone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that they understand conceptually that the State alone bears the burden of proof in a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, but unfortunately, sex offenses carry with them a different kind of societal stigma than someone who is accused of stealing or possessing drugs. Consequently, defendants accused of sexual offenses face a long uphill battle in a jury trial that is quite different from any other kind of trial. The stakes in a sex offense trial are very high, with very lengthy prison terms, sex offender registration, post-release supervision of five years, and possible satellite-based monitoring for certain kinds of sexual offenders, to name a few.
A defense attorney can weave the #MeToo movement into their opening statements and closing arguments, in order to continue to extend the framework for the jurors to understand that this case is NOT one of those cases. For example, an attorney can show how this case is separate and apart from the facts of those cases, and they need to put what they may have heard about those cases aside, and focus only on the evidence that they will hear during the course of this trial. Or, it could be helpful to draw distinctions between those famous #MeToo defendants who committed particularly egregious behaviors and contrast that with your particular case where the allegations may not be as significant, to provide a context. Many sexual assault cases will be “he said, she said” cases, and have no physical evidence tending to establish guilt. In those types of cases, the attorney can harken back to the questions asked in voir dire regarding credibility of witnesses and potential for bias, and utilize any fodder gained during direct or cross-examination to establish that the witness is not credible and that their account of events should not be believed.
An experienced criminal defense trial attorney will be cognizant of the effects of the #MeToo movement on sexual assault trials, and should find ways to address the #MeToo movement throughout the trial. Failure to address #MeToo in a sexual assault case could have catastrophic consequences for a criminal defendant, and a willful blindness about the era in which we live is inexcusable on the part of a criminal defense attorney who must anticipate every possible scenario. That’s why you hire an experienced trial lawyer.
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For a FREE consultation with Attorney Lindsey Granados, call Granados Law Group, PLLC today at 919-650-2851. She will assess your case and provide you with sound legal advice and a strategy.