Sex cases are a funny thing. That is, “funny” as in “strange”. In a country wherein we say that we prize the presumption of innocence, we really don’t act like we like said presumption very much.
Currently, I am handling a high profile case about child pornography. Already, the press is interested. This, of course, is natural and is the job of the media. However, I am troubled not by the fact that it is newsworthy, but the reaction of people. Any passer-by who is questioned about the matter seems to have already formulated the verdict of “guilty”. People are shocked that “this has happened”, except that a man’s good deeds have been completely disregarded because of the new accusations. Other than that, nothing else has been proven to have “happened”.
What is even more troubling is the aftermath.
I can still locate articles from 2008 when another client of mine was arrested and charged with rape involving a child. People were interested then. Well, for the last two years, we fought against the “assumption of guilt” while trying to remind everybody else that a “presumption of innocence” was rumored to still exist. Finally, two years later, my client was completely exonerated…as in “Not Guilty”. Out of curiosity last night, I cruised the internet to find mention of the fact that my client, who attempts to resurrect his life now that he has been acquitted, has been found not guilty.
Big surprise – nary a whisper.
Various people have been accused of these types of crimes, from day care providers to clergy. Believe it or not, not everybody has been convicted. What do we remember, though? We remember the convictions. Is it any wonder in a society wherein only the accusations are broadcast and not the acquittals, that we figure that accusation equals the verdict in all cases?
Of course, deserving or not, members of the clergy are big recipients of this type of suspicion. Usually, it is the church in the hot seat. Yesterday, an allegation from two years ago hitting the press involved the Jewish clergy – a rabbi.
The now-adult complainant, Michael B. (hereinafter, the “Complainant”) charges that , in the1970s, he was molested by a rabbi who was teaching sixth grade at one of the region’s most prestigious Jewish day schools, the Maimonides School.
Since then, two more complainants have come forward to aid the charge against Stanley L (hereinafter, the “Defendant”). Currently, according to court records, more complainants are being sought.
Of course, in this case, such suspicions have haunted the Defendant after he had left Maimonides, after moving to Philadelphia. Six years ago, the Defendant ended up pleading “no contest” to molesting a boy living in an Orthodox Jewish community in Philadelphia. He was later cited for violating probation when he refused treatment at an institute for sexual offenders.
“He basically flunked the sex offender course there because he refused to accept responsibility for what he did,” said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney James Berardinelli, who prosecuted the case.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has charged the Defendant 64, with molesting the three above-referenced complainants.
The Defendant has been released on $5,000 bail.
He has pleaded “not guilty”…not that it seems to mean much to most people these days.
…And so, years from now, when there is a Massachusetts verdict either for or against the Defendant, will we even hear about it? Will it matter?
Will press coverage be conditioned on what the verdict is?
Don’t simply blame the media – they tend to give us what we want to hear and see. If they don’t, then they are out of business. It is we who remember the guilt and often lose interest in the end result.
But then again, my blog is about criminal justice, or what passes for it, and not the sociology of media..
I have suggested in previous blogs that when one is being investigated or charged with any crime it is best to engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. This is nowhere more true than with sex crime cases.
The musty air of suspicion is particularly rank when it comes to these cases.
This is true, by the way, whether or not the allegation concerns children…but particularly when it does.
“Sam – why especially so when kids are involved?”
There are a number of reasons. First of all, children are the most helpless among us. They need the most protection and, indeed, we naturally feel the most protective about them. Most of us even love them.
We like to assume that a child would never lie; we even do this in cases when there is a presumption that the child is not competent to testify because he/she does know appreciate the difference between the truth and a lie.
Studies tell us otherwise, by the way. We don’t like to believe such studies very much.
Because of the above, the horror of a sexual attack on a child makes news. It is news that sells almost as well as what celebrity is entering incarceration, starting a new love affair or is revealed to act like an idiot in a nasty telephone call or five that was recorded (ala’ Mel Gibson).
While these accusations are like fast food to us, the verdict, often years down the road, is not. Is this because we ourselves have already long since reached the verdict of “guilty”?
Maybe. But, especially in the case of an acquittal, the development is not considered so newsworthy.
After all, the accused’s life is often destroyed by that time anyway…so who wants to think about that?
The bottom line here, folks, is the usual one, but especially so. When the accusations start, so does the need for counsel who has passed through these nasty waters before.
Me? I have only been wading in them for 25 years or so.
If you find yourself in such a predicament and would like to consult with me regarding representing you , please feel free to give me a call at 617-492-3000 .
To view the original story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/07/20/sex_abuse_case_against_rabbi_raises_larger_issues/