Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

A San Diego sheriff’s deputy is under criminal investigation, as three additional women now have come forward with legal claims alleging that he improperly groped them under his color of authority. Deputy Richard Fischer has been placed on administrative leave while Sheriff Bill Gore and investigators conduct separate internal and criminal probes of the accusations. It is reported that 10 women have accused Fischer of sexual misconduct.

The county of San Diego now faces one filed lawsuit and two legal claims, which are required to be filed in advance of civil litigation as a result of the allegations. The accusations, one of which dates back two years, could cost the county millions of dollars in legal settlements. All three women are being represented by San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon. According to Gilleon, the three victims spoke out after being inspired by each other.

The latest allegation comes from a San Marcos woman, whose claim was filed on behalf of her by attorney Gilleon. According to this claim, the deputy hugged her without consent and grabbed her buttocks. According to the claim, Dep. Fischer tried to kiss her. The claim seeks more than $6 million, plus “punitive damages against Dep. Fischer in an amount sufficient to punish him and his evil conduct, and to deter others from doing what he did.” It also references another lawsuit filed earlier this month, resulting from a groping incident in 2015.

Three of the women said in a joint interview Wednesday that they are angry and frustrated that Fischer has yet to be arrested, and in addition, is not even facing charges. There is the underlying concern that the officer is being protected by the sheriff and District Attorney Summer Stephan.   Defendant Fisher has not responded to requests for comment.

Claims Against San Diego County

Before a lawsuit is filed against the county, claims against the county must be completed in accordance with the California Government Code, sections 900-915.4.  The county then has 45 days to process and investigate your claim. The result of the claim may result in a settlement offer or a formal denial.

If the settlement or claim does not give the victim what he or she wants, the victim has a right to file a civil lawsuit against the county. Most of the time, that is the only way to obtain justice against police misconduct. Continue reading

Like the Bill Cosby case that took the media by storm last year, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has also been accused by multiple women of rape and sexual misconduct. However, in the case of Weinstein, more than 75 women have publicly accused him of inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment and rape. Many of Weinstein’s accusers are famous actresses such as Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, who have all said publicly that Weinstein forced them into unwanted sex. Weinstein has since then denied all allegations against him.

Currently, Police departments in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Beverly Hills, California, have said that they are investigating potential criminal charges in at least 10 different cases, some involving women who have not spoken publicly. So far, only the NYPD has stated that it has enough evidence to arrest Weinstein and press charges. This is because the agency has a police report filed by actress Paz de la Huerta in October to report that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. Additionally, at the time of the alleged assaults, de la Huerta had told her her therapist, SueAnne Piliero, who recently supplied a letter to the actress about her recollections from those sessions. Lastly, de la Huerta had told a journalist named Alexis Faith, who recorded the conversation but never published the story. She too provided the tape. Because de la Huerta alleges a forceful rape which happened after June 2006, within New York’s statute of limitations for rape in the first degree, her case is among the most compelling for prosecutors.

What is next? Currently, a senior sex crimes prosecutor has been assigned to the case in New York. Investigators are likely to present de la Huerta’s allegations to grand jury before making an arrest.  The grand jury would then decide whether to indict Weinstein based on the standard of “reasonable cause” that he committed a crime. If an indictment is issued, prosecutors would then ask a judge to issue an arrest warrant.

Due to the allegations against him, Weinstein has been fired from the film production company he co-founded. He has hired to top defense lawyers to represent him in New York and Los Angeles.

California Statute of Limitations

Like New York, which eliminated its statute of limitations on rape charges back in 2006, California also amended its criminal code last year to eliminate the statute of limitations of rape and sexual assault charges. See S.B. 813.  Prior to that, the state had a 10-year window. Continue reading

Prostitution has been illegal in California since 1872.  However, despite the over-a-century-long history, some sex workers claim that engaging in sexual activity for money is part of their right to earn a living. A sex workers’ advocacy group, the Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project, is seeking to decriminalize prostitution and has filed a constitutional challenge to the anti-prostitution law in California, saying it violates constitutional protections on free speech, freedom of association, and due process. The plaintiffs also include three unidentified former prostitutes and a disabled man who says he wants to be a respectful client of erotic services.

Citing the landmark 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in the state of Texas, the plaintiffs in this case argue that sexual conduct among consenting adults is a “fundamental right.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the legal challenge may proceed.

A change in the status of sex workers could have a big impact on California beyond escorts and prostitutes. Deterring human trafficking is one reason that state authorities have cited for keeping the law as is. Currently, prostitution is illegal in all 50 states with the exception of a few Nevada counties.

Current California Law on Prostitution:

California Penal Code § 647(b) explicitly prohibits:

  • Engaging in the act of prostitution, and
  • Offering or agreeing to engage in the act of prostitution.

The crime of prostitution or solicitation of it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a $1000 fine. However, California law does not automatically require registration as a sex offender if you have been convicted of prostitution.

California Penal Code § 653.22 further makes it a crime punishable by six months imprisonment to loiter to commit prostitution (i.e. standing in a street corner).

Legal Defenses

Entrapment occurs when police behave in a way that applies pressure or defrauds you to engage in behavior you otherwise would not have. Entrapment defenses are sometimes used, since a number of prostitution/solicitation arrests are made by undercover cops. Many defendants are unfairly lured by saavy cops.

Other Related Crimes

California Penal Code § 266 covers the crimes of “pimping” and pandering, while California Penal Code § 647(a) covers lewd conduct in public. Lewd conduct occurs when  someone engages in a sexual act in public. Continue reading

A graduate student at Cal State San Marcos accused of rape has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the university violated his rights to due process through an unfair investigation. The student, who is not identified by name in the suit, was attending a study abroad program in Germany in 2016.  Last October, he learned that a fellow student in the program had accused him of rape. However, no criminal charges were ever filed even though the university launched its own investigation.

His degree and transcripts were placed on hold once the investigation started. Allegedly, the school did not provide him with the report or his accuser’s statements or other documents. He was found guilty by the university of sexual misconduct in March. The lawsuit now argues that by withholding his academic credentials, without giving him the chance to defend himself, the university breached his constitutional rights to due process under the fifth and fourteenth amendments. In other words, he is alleging that his procedural due process has been violated because the school’s ‘procedure’ denied him access to anything regarding the accusations against him.

Officials for Cal State San Marcos pointed to the university’s policies under Title IX, which forbid discrimination in education. This means the school must create and sustain an educational environment free of sexual violence and misconduct.

This is not the first time that universities in California have come under controversy for their handling of sexual assault allegations. Back in 2015, a California court ruled that the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) acted improperly while adjudicating a sexual assault case, noting that the student was not allowed to findings of the university or cross-examine his accuser. Also in 2015, San Diego State University reversed the suspension of a male student after finding allegations of sexual misconduct against him were unsubstantiated, and he sued the school.

Due Process in Schools

Students facing possible suspension or expulsion from public colleges and universities are entitled to due process protections because their liberty and property are at stake, and because public schools take money from the state, making them state (government) actors, to an extent, in a disciplinary proceeding. This means at an absolute minimum, students in campus disciplinary cases are entitled to have notice of the charges against them, an explanation of the evidence against them, and an opportunity to defend themselves in the process, such as hearings.  See Goss v. Lopez, U.S. Supreme Court (1975).

When a school denies you your right to due process, this can be used as a defense to a suspension or expulsion decision. Continue reading

Earlier this month the criminal trial of Jacob Paul Skorniak, 51, started in San Diego Superior Court. Skorniak is accused of kidnapping and raping a 21-year-old German exchange student he met in Pacific Beach during New Year’s celebrations. He is also accused of using a knife to attack the victim. Skorniak has testified that it was consensual, but the young woman, who has since returned to Germany, has chosen not to return to San Diego to testify at the trial. She was reportedly initially cooperating with the prosecution. Even without victim testimony, the jury ultimately found Skorniak guilty of the charges of rape, kidnapping with intent to commit rape, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person.

In his case, Skorniak actually recorded the crime he committed and it was played for the jury. The victim also inadvertently dialed her cell phone during the assault and her parents answered in Germany. Her father testified that he screamed into the phone until the line went dead.

Everyone knows that being accused of rape is a serious matter. While there may be legal defenses in a situation, we will seek to explain the type of evidence that typically goes into a rape trial.

What if There is No Victim Testimony?

Usually, the most compelling evidence at a rape trial is the testimony of the victim. There is no law mandating that victims of sex crimes have to testify. Prosecutors may still decide to prosecute even without the victim’s testimony if there is other evidence that makes them think they have a case. They will also consider witness testimony as evidence to bring to trial.

What Kind of Evidence is used in Rape Cases?

Statistically speaking, the vast majority of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim.  Therefore, the identity of the person is usually known. However, prosecutors also have to rely on other evidence to prove that the accused committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes physical and forensic evidence, such as bruises and cuts on the victim, torn clothing, and DNA evidence or other witness evidence. Continue reading

According to news outlet ABC 10, a Carlsbad pastor named Matthew Tague, 43, has been arrested on 16 counts of child molestation. Deputies with the San Diego Sheriff’s child abuse unit has charged him with lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14. The charges against Tague, a pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, are not related to his duties as a pastor. Tague is currently being held in Vista Detention Facility on $1.9 million bail. He was due in court on June 2.

Once he appeared in court, he pleaded “not guilty” to charges of repeatedly molesting a female member of his congregation for two years. He also pleaded “not guilty” to charges of 14 forcible sex acts against a child. Additionally, Deputy District Attorney Patricia Lavermicocca said Tague is accused of violating a family member when s/he was 12 and 13 years old. It is reported that Tague’s wife caught him abusing the victim, and turned him in.

Child Molestation Under California Law

Not only are sex crimes taken seriously in California, but sex crimes against children are viewed upon by society as even worse. Just being accused of a sexual offense against a child can ruin your life and reputation.

There are several sections in the California Penal Code that address sex crimes against children.

Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Minor (Penal Code § 288)

A lewd or lascivious act against a minor is defined as touching any part of the body (bare or covered) of a minor or forcing him or her to touch themselves for the purposes of sexually arousing or gratifying yourself or the victim. Subsection (a) of the statute states that if the victim was under 14, it is a felony punishable by up to eight years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Subsection (b) of the statute addresses lewd acts against a minor under the age of 18, by fear of duress or violence. A conviction under this subsection is also a felony punishable by 10 yrs imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Subsection (c) specifies that if the victim was under 14 or 15 years old, and you are at least 10 years older than the victim, you will also face a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.

Soliciting a Minor for Lewd Purposes (Penal Code § 288.4)

Solicitation of any child under the age of 18 can either be a misdemeanor or felony, punishable by up one to three years imprisonment and a $1,000 to $10,000 fine. Continue reading

The saga of Bill Crosby’s criminal trial for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women is finally over, as earlier this month, a Pennsylvania jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision, resulting in a mistrial.

It is reported that on the sixth day of jury deliberations, two of the 12 jurors prevented a guilty verdict. The jury reportedly deliberated for 53 hours and asked 12 questions of the court during deliberations. An anonymous juror told ABC News that 10 out of the 12 jurors believed Cosby was guilty in two out of the three counts filed against him. The third count had the vote of 11 of the 12 jurors.

During the trial, prosecutors called 12 witnesses, including Andrea Constand, the woman who first came forward with allegations against Cosby.  She endured over a week of testimony with no forensic evidence.

Constand first told police about the alleged assault in January 2005, a year after she says it took place. The district attorney at the time declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence. She thereafter sued Cosby in a civil suit and settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006.

Judge O’Neill, the judge presiding over the trial, declared the mistrial with prosecutors announcing that they plan to retry the case.

What Exactly is a Mistrial?

In the criminal justice system, a mistrial (also called a “hung jury”) is one that is not successfully completed. In other words, the jury cannot come to a decision even when it is given the adequate time to deliberate.   

Mistrials can occur for a number of reasons, including the death of the attorney, juror misconduct, or a prejudicial error unfair to the defendant. The most common reason for mistrial is a “hung jury,” when different members cannot come to a conclusion as to the guilt of the defendant.  Either side may file a motion for mistrial, which is either granted or denied by the presiding judge.  The government can still seek for a re-trial when there is a mistrial.

Juries Must be Unanimous for Criminal Trials

In federal court, whether the trial is criminal or civil, juries must reach a unanimous verdict. In state courts, almost every state requires a unanimous verdict in criminal trials.

In criminal trials, 12 jurors has traditionally been the norm, with a few outlier states that allow for six jurors (ie. Florida allows for six-person juries in criminal trials). Continue reading

In Alameda county, California lawmakers are considering a contentious bill that would end lifetime registration for certain sex offenders. The lawmaker who introduced the bill, Nancy O’Malley, and the District Attorney of Alameda County’s intent is to save the state money, since it is extremely expensive to monitor sex offenders.

Senate Bill 421 would reorganize the sex offender registry into a tiered system and group existing registered offenders into three categories based on the severity of their crimes. A certain number of offenders would be dropped from the list as soon as 2018. “There are people who are still registering who are now 80 years old and they register every year because when they were 18 years old they exposed themselves, there’s injustice in some of that,” says Ms. O’Malley.

The bill passed the state Senate’s Committee on Public Safety on last month. Proponents of the new bill say that lightening the work load of law enforcement will give them more time to focus on high-risk offenders that actually need monitoring.

Currently, a state tax force has 2,500 sex offenders to keep track of. There is currently an estimated 104,000 registered sex offenders statewide.

Potential Changes in California’s Sex Offender Registry

Most U.S. states already have a tiered system for sex offenders. But under current California law, all sex offenders have to register with law enforcement for the rest of their lives, no matter if they committed a nonviolent misdemeanor crime like indecent exposure (ie. urinating in public) or a violent felony rape.

If passed into law, S.B. 421 would create a tiered system for sex offenders:

  • Tier 1: Misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenders would have to register for 10 years.  This encompasses situations like when a young college student has too much to drink and exposes him or herself publicly.
  • Tier 2: Convicts who committed serious or certain violent offenses would have to remain on the list for 20 years.
  • Tier 3: Violent high-risk sex predators will remain on the list for the rest of their lives.  This includes sex offenders who violated Megan’s Law.

A sex offender’s removal from the registry would not be automatic. Offenders who qualify for removal would still have to petition the court and have their application reviewed by their local district attorney, who has to consider factors like the risk of re-offending. Continue reading

Saturday, March 7th marked the seventh anniversary of the Balboa Park “Chelsea’s Run” to commemorate the 17-year-old Poway High School student who was sexually assaulted and killed in 2010 by convicted sex offender John Gardner. Chelsea King was abducted while running in a Rancho Bernardo park by Gardner, the same man who admitted to killing Amber Dubois of Escondido. Garner pled guilty and was sentenced to life without parole.

Six months later, “Chelsea’s Law” was passed after being signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The law sharply increased penalties for those convicted of sexual assaults on minors (including the sentencing of life without parole). It also included reforms to increase outreach to paroled sex offenders most likely to re-offend, and made GPS monitoring mandatory for child sex offenders. It also barred sex offender parolees from being near where children congregate.

A report released five years after the enactment of Chelsea’s Law concluded that at least 332 defendants were charged statewide under various aspects of the Law. In San Diego County, 22 people were charged under the law between September 2014 and August 2015, including two who received terms of 25 years to life.

Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child

Aggravated sexual assault of a child is an extremely serious crime. It is a felony punishable by 15 years imprisonment to life, along with a fine of up to $50,000. The sentence will increase if there is multiple victims. See CA Penal Code § 269. Additionally, those convicted will be required to register as a sex offender.

One will be charged under § 269 if s/he allegedly sexually assaults a minor under the age of 14, or if the victim is a minor (under 18 years old) and seven years younger than the defendant.

Aggravated Kidnapping

The crime of aggravated kidnapping occurs when someone:

  • Uses force, fear, or fraud against a minor under age 14; or
  • Demands a ransom;
  • Causes the victim bodily harm or death;
  • Violates California’s carjacking law under Penal Code § 215.

See CA Penal Codes § 207, 208, 209. A conviction of aggravated kidnapping carries a prison sentence of five years to life, depending on the circumstances. Continue reading

It is reported that legislation will be introduced that will update California’s laws criminalizing HIV.  It would make it so that a person could not be prosecuted for intentionally transmitting the virus if his or her sex partner tested negative for HIV. This comes at a time in which health officials throughout Southern California are reporting alarming increases in STDS, particularly syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, which are also part of a national epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STD rates reached a record high.  While officials do not know the definitive cause for such high rates, they include medical and social factors ranging from a lack of adequate screening to decreased fear of curable STDs.  Specifically, Orange County reported cases of gonorrhea were up 75% from 2011 to 2015.  Syphilis cases jumped 80%, and chlamydia increased 14%. The California Department of Public Health say the highest STD rates are found among young people, African-Americans, and gay and bisexual men, according to the state.

California Has Strict HIV Disclosure Laws

Under current California Law, it is a felony if you fail to disclose to your sexual partner that you are HIV positive with the specific intent to transfer the virus to him or her.

Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code § 120291(a),“Any person who exposes another to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by engaging in unprotected sexual activity when the infected person knows at the time of the unprotected sex that he or she is infected with HIV, has not disclosed his or her HIV-positive status, and acts with the specific intent to infect the other person with HIV, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.”

Another law on the books targets sex workers who are HIV-positive. If a prostitute is convicted of solicitation, he or she faces up to 16 months in prison.

Legal Defenses

Proving intent to infect someone with HIV is extremely difficult. You cannot be prosecuted if you did not know you were HIV positive, or even if you have never even been tested. Criminal statutes punishing HIV transmission have been held not to violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause because these laws punish voluntary conduct rather than the status of being HIV positive.

Lastly, just because you are not criminally liable does not mean you cannot be held civilly liable for damages in civil court.    Continue reading