Pittsburgh Sex Crime Lawyer
Human sexuality has long been intertwined with social and cultural values. Every society recognizes some sexual activities as acceptable and other activities as unacceptable. These social judgments are very subject to change, as evidenced by the rapid rejection of laws that forbid same sex activity, mixed race activity, and sodomy. Due to the severe penalties and social stigma of a sex crime conviction, it’s imperative that the accused seek skilled legal representation from a Pittsburgh sex crimes lawyer as soon as possible.
In modern America, sexual activity that is criminalized tends to be activity that is forced on someone (rape, child sexual abuse, child pornography), or that involves a victim deemed incapable of giving consent (child sex abuse, child pornography, statutory rape, sex with the mentally handicapped). Modern society does still recognize at least one crime that doesn’t fit those categories: prostitution.
The cultural aspect of human sexuality also plays a big part in prosecutions for sex crimes. Once someone is known to have been charged with a sex crime—well before any formal prosecution or conviction—public opinion will likely provide its own punishment. One thing that no one wants to be, or be known as, is the local sex pervert.
The Range of Sex Crimes in Pennsylvania
Like all states, Pennsylvania has specific prohibitions against a wide range of sexual activities, each with a serious penalty. The most serious charges carry the potential for many, many years in prison. The primary categories of sex offenses are:
Rape, accomplished by force, coercion, incapacity (either due to age or to mental condition), inebriation, etc.
Several different kinds of sexual assault, including sex with minors and assault in specific circumstances and/or by specific defendants, such as in institutions and by volunteers, sports officials, and others
Indecent assault (simple and aggravated)
Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
Intercourse with an animal
Disseminating an “intimate image” (disseminating images of a current or former partner nude or engaged in sex)
Attempts to commit any sex crime are themselves crimes.
Third parties—people other than those who committed the sexual act—can also be charged with related crimes, especially conspiracy to commit the crime, solicitation to commit the crime, and abetting a sex offender’s violation of probation, parole, or registration requirements.
Child Molestation Cases in Pittsburgh
The news is full of stories of children being molested. The victims range in age from infants to just under the age of majority, and the people accused of molestation span the spectrum of our society, from family members to neighbors to babysitters to clergy to athletic coaches to people working at children’s shelters, and on and on.
The crimes are widely publicized and both widely and strongly condemned. These molestations may be charged as several crimes, depending on many things, including the age of the victim and the status and location of the crime. Penalties for conviction are severe, with the most serious crimes classified as first degree felonies.
These are very often complicated and wrenching cases for everyone involved. The most difficult are cases involving very young children and no other witnesses or physical evidence. The judge, the jury and the community sympathize with the victim, and the sympathy may overwhelm the need to first find out if the defendant is actually guilty.
Defenses to Child Molestation Charges
Potential defenses to child molestation include:
- The act as charged never happened.
- Someone other than the defendant committed the act.
- The prosecution evidence is simply insufficient to prove what happened and/or who committed the act.
- The usual challenges to the legality of searches, lack of Miranda warnings to the defendant, failure to comply with procedural requirements such as arraignment and speedy trial
There are numerous reasons that the victim, especially a younger victim, may claim that there was molestation when none occurred. Most people by now are familiar with the concept of “false memory,” for example. When questioned about strange subjects like sex by an adult who is already suspicious, children are very susceptible to suggestion; some suddenly remember an event like the one the adult is talking about. False memory defenses are tricky and require considerable input and testimony from experts.
Among somewhat older children, there is the possibility that the victim is making the false claim deliberately, in retaliation against the defendant for some insult or slight. This is also a difficult defense to establish, usually requiring considerable investigation of the victim’s history, both with the defendant and with the community at large.
When the victim and the defendant are strangers, there is always the possibility of mistaken identity. The child’s ability to identify people and retain the memory of their appearance is central to this defense. Other considerations include:
- The consistency of the victim’s description before making the in-person identification
- How much psychological distress the victim was in during the event and during the time the defendant was identified
- How much evidence the defendant can produce to show that he was, in fact, elsewhere at the time of the event
- Whether someone else, whose appearance is similar to the defendant’s, can be shown to have been in the vicinity of the event
Child Pornography Charges in Pittsburgh
Pornography of all kinds has exploded with the new technology that allows anonymous internet access and has eased the transfer of still and moving images by means of computers, phones, and the like. Child pornography has been part of this explosion, and rarely does a week go by without a media story of someone being found with sexual images of children on their computer.
Child pornography crimes include creating it, distributing it and possessing it. It would be difficult to overstate the public disdain for people accused of any of those activities, and simply being accused of it leads to considerable social consequences, regardless of whether you are actually guilty. Families can be destroyed by the accusation.
Pennsylvania Child Pornography Law
Pennsylvania statutes treat child pornography as the sexual abuse of children. The crimes in that category target depictions of children below the age of 18.
Making the pornographic images, as well as allowing a child to be used in making them, is a second degree felony. Distributing, selling, delivering, or similar acts as to child pornography is a third degree felony. Possession or control of child pornography is a third degree felony that gets upgraded to second degree if there are previous offenses.
The most likely defenses involve proving that the elements of the crime simply aren’t present, as by, for example, establishing that:
- The person depicted was not under 18
- You were not the person who photographed or filmed the child
- The acts depicted don’t amount to sexual activity, real or simulated
- The pornography was not, in fact, under your control
Child Pornography under Federal Law
Federal law also criminalizes every aspect of child pornography, from using children to create the pornographic images; to producing the images; to distributing, receiving or possessing the images; to attempting or conspiring to do any of those acts; to a parent, guardian or other child custodian selling a child or transferring custody of the child for use in child pornography. Even internet service providers (ISPs) can be penalized if they fail to notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children upon learning of a possible violation of the federal child pornography laws.
Federal law applies if the offense was committed in a way that used interstate or foreign commerce in any way. Typically, that requirement is met whenever the US mails were involved, and whenever the internet was involved.
Prostitution Charges in Pittsburgh
Title 18 of the Pennsylvania statutes, section 5902 criminalizes:
- Prostitution (engaging in sex for money)
- Loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution (must be in a public place or somewhere you can be seen from a public place)
- Promoting prostitution
- Patronizing prostitutes
In fact, the law penalizes simply “living off prostitutes.” If you knowingly allow yourself to be supported by the proceeds of prostitution, you are considered to be “promoting prostitution.”
As anyone who watches a lot of television or movies knows, entrapment is a major issue in many prostitution cases. Because the offense rests on exchanging sex for money, and the person who hires the prostitute rarely reports a crime to the police, it’s common for the police to engage in undercover stings. The undercover officer needs to get the suspected prostitute to offer sex for money, and the prostitute knows that offering sex for money will be criminal if the “customer” turns out to be a police officer.
The nature of these undercover operations frequently blurs the line between prostitution willingly performed and prostitution performed because of the police officer’s enticement. If the negotiation isn’t recorded, there are usually conflicting claims by the police and the alleged prostitute.
Pennsylvania law recognizes several different versions of rape. The lack of consent that is the hallmark of rape may be based on any of the following:
- Forcible compulsion
- The victim’s unconsciousness or lack of awareness
- The victim’s inability to resist as a result of the defendant ’s actions
- The victim’s basic lack of the mental ability required for consent
- The victim’s youth, preventing the ability to consent
Note that Pennsylvania treats sex with a minor as either rape, in the case of intercourse with a minor younger than 13, or, if the minor is aged 13 through 15 and the defendant is at least four years older than the victim, as “statutory sexual assault.”
In essence, if the victim does not consent, or the consent is not based on an understanding and appreciation of what is being consented to, sexual intercourse is rape. Accordingly, the main defense to a rape charge is that the victim did, in fact, consent to the sexual intercourse and had both the mental capacity and the awareness to give meaningful consent.
All of the offenses are serious felonies, with the most severe penalties reserved for drugging the victim and raping a child. If a child suffers a serious injury in the rape, the sentence may be life in prison.
Pennsylvania no longer recognizes the “marital exemption” theory which precluded rape charges against a husband of the victim. In practical terms, however, it still tends to be harder to prove rape between spouses.
Registration of Sex Offenders
Pennsylvania has a tough sex offender registration requirement. The statute is now known as SORNA, for the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act. It used to be known as Megan’s Law.
The registration requirements vary depending on which “Tier” your sex crime conviction falls into:
- Tier I offenders must register once a year for 15 years.
- Tier II offenders must register twice a year for 25 years.
- Tier III offenders must register four times a year for life.
In addition to the scheduled registrations, each registered offender has to report changes in the basic personal information within three days of the change. That requirement applies to changes in such information as place of residence, contact phone number, and employment and education status.
If you are a transient, you have to register every month, in person.
Registration always makes life harder for the registrant. As knowledge of the sex crime conviction spreads in the community, registrants often struggle to find and keep employment and a place to live.
Violation of Requirements
Failing to comply with all the registration requirements is itself a serious crime. Violations by Tier I offenders is generally a third degree felony; by Tier II and II offenders, it’s generally a second degree felony. Both charges step up one degree if it’s a repeat offense. All charges carry the possibility of lengthy jail sentences.
If a person required to register supplies false information to the authorities, and does so deliberately, the crime is considered even more severe. The crime is a second degree felony for Tier I registrants, and a first degree felony for Tiers II and III registrants.
Failure to Report a Sexual Offense Promptly
In many cases, the person who reports a sexual offense to the authorities does so after waiting a considerable time after the event occurred. Pennsylvania law explicitly says that “prompt reporting” of an offense isn’t required in order for a defendant to be prosecuted. But the law also leaves open the possibility of that gap in time to be introduced in evidence, as long as that complies with the rules of evidence. The leaves considerable room for argument between the prosecution and defense, and an experienced Pittsburgh sex crimes lawyer can make the best use of that room.
The most common reasons given for not reporting the crime immediately include:
- Hoping to conceal the event from family members
- Fear of the public’s reaction
- Fear that they were, or will be viewed as, somehow responsible for the act
- Being in a state of confusion and numbness from the trauma of the event
Gender of the Victim
There’s no logical reason for the gender of the victim of a sex crime to matter, and Pennsylvania’s laws explicitly apply to both genders. However, sex crimes are, as stated earlier, intertwined with social and cultural values. In American culture, sex between an adult woman and an underage boy is often treated as far less serious than if the sexual activity had involved an adult man and an underage girl.
Statute of Limitations
Many sex crimes, especially those involving minor victims, don’t even come to light until many years after they occurred. The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is a good example, as are the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State and many of the cases involving Bill Cosby.
Historically, the law took little notice of the problems that statutes of limitations posed for certain types of sex crime cases. If the period of time allowed by the statute had passed, charges simply could not be brought. That rather harsh bar is being softened in two ways in more modern times: statutes of limitations that allow a longer period of time for specific types of cases, and judicial recognition that some factors justify allowing charges to be filed despite the technical violation of the statute of limitations.
Get the Legal Help You Need From an Experienced Pittsburgh Sex Crimes Lawyer
Being charged with a sex crime changes the course of your life. Being convicted of that crime is even worse. If that crime involves violence and/or children, you are likely to become a pariah and outcast. No lawyer can prevent those consequences, but an experienced Pennsylvania sex crimes lawyer may be able to accomplish several things: (1) minimize the publicity surrounding the case; (2) speed the case along when possible and desirable; (3) ensure that the police and prosecutors are doing their job and not simply ignoring evidence that indicates your innocence; (4) get the best outcome the circumstances allow, whether that be an acquittal, a plea deal, or a lighter sentence.
Sex crimes are unique in many ways and present unique problems for both the prosecution and the defense. It’s best to get experienced legal help as soon as possible. If you know you’re being investigated, get help before you ever get arrested. If you have been arrested, get help without delay.
If you have been charged with a sex crime of any kind anywhere in the Pittsburgh area or in Western Pennsylvania, or if you have reason to believe that you may be charged, call sex crimes defense attorney Gary Gerson today. Gary has 25 years of experience as a dedicated criminal defense attorney, practicing in both state and federal court. He can help with all stages of a case and all types of cases, including those that involve the requirement that sex offenders register with the state.