Articles Tagged with sex crimes

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

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

There are currently more than 800,000 people registered in the nationwide list of registered sex criminals, and that list is growing dramatically. Even some who had denounced convicted rapist Brock Turner’s actions had questioned whether he should have to spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

In states like California, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama it is impossible for people convicted of any sex crime to be removed from the online registries showing their pictures, addresses, convictions, and probation details. Critics have stated that an ex-offender will struggle with getting a job and place to live for the rest of his or her life. Advocates for sex crime victims insist that lifetime registries make the public safer by preventing offender recidivism and giving citizens and police access to information on the whereabouts of sex offenders and precluding them from places like schools.

Brock was released on September 2 after serving only half his jail sentence (three months) for good behavior. Brock moved back to his parent’s house in Bellbrook, Ohio. It is reported that protesters demonstrated in front of the home before and after his arrival and Turner’s parents reported to police eggs being thrown at the house.

In the ongoing saga of rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, California has become one of two states that has proposed a law that would extend the statute of limitations in the prosecution of rape cases. The proposed bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature, follows a new law in Nevada that increases the legal deadline for rape prosecution from four to 20 years. In California, the statute of limitations to prosecute a rape case is currently 10 years.  Almost three dozen states, including the District of Columbia, have statute of limitations on filing sexual assault charges or lawsuits.

The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, who has had a history of vetoing bills extending legal deadlines for filing lawsuits over child sex abuse, must approve or sign into law the bill by the end of the month.

This bill however, is not the only one Governor Jerry Brown must decide to veto or approve.  The California legislature, in response to the outrage over the six-month jail sentence for Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner also passed a bill that would mandate a minimum three-year sentence for those convicted of rape or sexual assault. The proposed bill would eliminate a judge’s discretion to sentence defendants convicted of such crimes to probation.  Brock Turner was released from jail earlier this month for ‘good behavior,’ after serving three months (half) of his sentence. Had this proposed law been in place, he would still be in jail.

What are Statutes of Limitations?

Every state has something called a statute of limitations, which is generally defined as the time limit for a criminal or civil action.  In other words, once a statute of limitations has passed, one may no longer be prosecuted or sued for his or her crimes. A statute of limitations typically begins to run from the date the injury or crime was discovered.

In California, the state’s code has specific time limits for specific crimes, such as fraud, injury to personal property, and malpractice. The current California statute of limitations on prosecuting felony rape and sexual assault cases is 10 years after the crime occurs, or for incidents involving minors, until they reach the age of 26. Continue reading

Riverside, California, is home to the West Coast terminal of trucking company CRST, located just off Interstate 215, where a woman named Cathy Sellars has filed a lawsuit against CRST for sexual harassment. Over the last 20 years, hundreds of women have brought gender discrimination lawsuits against the trucking industry. It is reported by the EEOC, that an average of one of six of those claims involved race-based harassment.

The trucking incident is still currently 95% male. The few women in the industry allegedly suffered from everyday harassment, from catcalling to rape. Sellars reportedly suffered instances of sexual harassment, assault, and intimidation from her trainer during her first few weeks as a truck driver for CRST. She says she reported the incidences of harassment with human resources for CRST on the phone, and called her trainer’s dispatcher, but failed to get the help she needed.  She also says she would be catcalled at the truck stop, with the on-duty terminal manager at Riverside ignoring the behavior of male drivers.

Catcalling and Sexual Harassment: Free Speech, or a Crime?

While it is obvious that sexual assault (grabbing, flashing) is a serious crime, most states vary on public comments and gestures. Some have considered catcalling protected under the first amendment if it does not arise to a true threat. Simply put, it is not a crime to be a rude person.  In other states however, behavior like catcalling is illegal under the broad legal definition of “lewd conduct.” In California, catcalling and verbal sexual harassment can still be considered a crime by way of different laws. The state has more protective laws against gender-based harassment, and currently has six laws that protect against verbal harassment:

  1. Disorderly conduct- this includes explicit sexual comments or solicitations or obscene gestures. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 647.
  2. Any harassment at adult education schools– including loitering or catcalling on campus. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 647(b).
  3. Harassment on public transportationSee CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 640.
  4. Vagrancy near a school- including loitering near campus. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 653(b).
  5. Public nuisance- this includes those who routinely harass passerbys at the same street corner. See CA Code, Title 10, §370-372.
  6. Unlawful assembly- California law defines this as whenever two or more persons assemble together for an unlawful or lawful act, in a boisterous or tumultuous manner.  See CA Code, Title 11, §407-409.

Continue reading

In lieu of the national outrage over the seemingly light sentence of Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, the state of California has just proposed a bill which would mandate a minimum sentence of three years for crimes of sexual assault. The legislation, Assembly Bill 2888, was introduced by Democratic Assemblymen Evan Low and Bill Dodd and co-sponsored by Rosen and Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill. Critics warn that while well intended, we forget about prosecutorial discretions and police discretions, which are the main barriers to rape convictions.

Brock Turner, 20, spiraled into fame when he was convicted of three felony assault charges: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. His sentence drew national outrage and increased dialogue on what it means to have White privilege, because he was only sentenced to six months. It is further projected he will only serve three months of that sentence, when he was facing 10 years imprisonment. The jury deliberated for less than two days over the eight-day trial.  

Turner was arrested after two male students witnessed him on top of a drunk and unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus.  will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, but he still remains free on $150,000 bail.

Sexual Assault vs. Rape

Under California law, Turner was indeed convicted of sexual assault (aka sexual battery) rather than rape. Under the California Penal Code, the definition of rape includes “sexual intercourse,” whereas “forcible acts of sexual penetration” is a separate crime. See CA Penal Code § 243.4. In the Turner case, the foreign object under the statute was Turner’s fingers. In fact, California is one of many states that include body parts that are not sexual organs in its statutes on penetration with a foreign object. Thus, rape is a higher offense.

CA Penal Code § 243.4, also known as California’s sexual battery/assault law, specifically prohibits touching the intimate part of another person for purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. It can be tried as a misdemeanor or felony. It is tried as a felony when the victim is unaware of the nature of the act (ie. unconscious), unlawfully restrained, or mentally incapacitated to consent. Continue reading

A tutor at Mar Vista High School is now facing criminal charges for having a sexual relationship with a 16 year old student at the school. Alejandro Rodriguez, 20, is accused of having a relationship with a student that lasted about a week. The victim in this case, has only been identified as “John Doe.” Evidently, he had told his cousin about the relationship, who then told the victim’s father. His father immediately contacted the police.   

Rodriguez has been charged with four felony counts of oral copulation and one count of sodomy of a person under 18 years of age. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. It is reported that the DA’s office is prosecuting the relationship as a non-forcible sex crime. According to Rodriguez’s defense attorney, claims that if his client had been a woman, and not involved in a same-sex relationship, there would be a less restrictive charge available. It is because his client can only be charged with sodomy, the ‘crime’ of anal sex, with both parties being men.

California Statutory Rape Laws

In a ruling that even other lawyers, prosecutors, the nation, and judges are calling completely “absurd,” a conservative Oklahoma court has ruled that rape cannot happen if the victim is unconscious. A court rejected the prosecution of a teenage boy in Tulsa because his 16-year-old accuser had been intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness. In its ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals stated Forcible Sodomy cannot occur when a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act. “We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language,” Judge Hudson said.

Specifically, Oklahoma’s rape law does not mention unconsciousness or intoxication as an element of the crime. Back in 2014, a group of high school students gathered in a Tulsa park to drink and smoke marijuana. Witnesses said the girl had been drifting in and out of unconsciousness and had been unable to walk. The defendant took the girl to his car, and he was then accused of forcing her to perform oral sex. The boy said the ensuing oral sex was consensual, but the victim told the police she did not remember anything else after being at the park. The defendant was initially charged with first-degree rape and forcible oral sodomy, but both charges were dismissed at trial.

Forced Oral Sex is Rape in California

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report about an adult film actor in California who infected two sexual partners with HIV in the weeks after he contracted the virus, but before it was detected by lab tests. The unnamed actor was apparently infected by a partner outside of work six days before his negative lab results, according to a report by the CDC published on February 11.

The topic of whether sex without a condom constitutes free speech is a long contested one in California. As a state home to a booming porn industry, it has witnessed several attempts to mandate condom use. This November, Californians will be able to vote on a ballot measure that would require condom use for the pornographic movies and allow any state resident to sue to enforce the law.

About 50,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV each year, and the numbers seem to be increasing. More importantly, it is widely known that once infected, the virus does not show up in test results right away.

Convicted human smuggler Martel Valencia-Cortez was believed to have assaulted a San Diego Border Patrol agent with a rock earlier this year. It is believed that Cortez had threw a rock at the agent at a human smuggling event, who thereafter fired his weapon at Cortez. He was allegedly caught smuggling 14 illegal aliens into California. Cortez was somehow able to escape back to Mexico while the 14 illegal aliens were taken into custody. Cortez is currently on the run, and is evidently well-known in the area. He has been allegedly smuggling people over the border since 1997 and was recently released from prison from a three year smuggling charge in September.  

Cortez is considered armed and dangerous by officials. Additionally, he is now believed to be connected to “El Tigre,” a lieutenant in the Sinaloa Drug Cartel a by U.S. Border Patrol.

Human Trafficking in California

Federal law makes it a crime to smuggle or help smuggle (bring in) someone into the United States if they are not a citizen. See Sections 274(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is a felony punishable by imprisonment of 10 years and a fine. The penalty also gets multiplied by the number of people one is convicted of attempting to smuggle in.

In California, Penal Code § 236.1 addresses the crime of  “human trafficking.” The Code defines human trafficking as:

  • Bringing people into the U.S. to exploit them for labor;
  • Depriving someone of their personal liberty as it pertains to sexual exploitation or child sexual exploitation;
  • Persuading or trying to persuade someone to engage in a commercial sex act (ie. prostitution).

Human trafficking is a Class C felony in California. However, back in 2012, California voters passed Proposition 35 (the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act”), which provided for even harsher penalties. Now if you are convicted of human trafficking to obtain forced labor services, you will face five to 12 years imprisonment and a fine up to $500,000. If you are convicted of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, child pornography, or extortion, the term of imprisonment increases to 8 to 20 years, a fine of $500,000 and a requirement of joining the sex offender registry. Lastly, if you are convicted of persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, you will be facing 15 years to life imprisonment, a $500,000 fine, and a sex offender registration. Continue reading

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