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Archive for the ‘sex offense’ Category

Megan’s Law and the National Public Sex Offender Registry

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

A consequence of being convicted of certain sex offenses is the requirement to register as a sex offender. This requirement, generally referred to as “Megan’s Law,” can be for life or for a number of years.

Having to register as a sex offender has a number of significant negative consequences. First, the registries are public and, of course, are available on the internet, making them a constant source of public shaming for both the offender and his family. In addition, it makes it difficult for individuals on this registry to obtain employment and housing.

Sadly, there is no evidence that registration prevents future criminal conduct. It would thus appear that registration is nothing more than additional punishment.

But a new problem related to the registry emerged in 2007, when then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared the federal reporting requirement (The Adam Walsh Act) to be retroactive. That meant someone who had been convicted prior to the passage of the new law was now subject to its provisions.

Failure to register is a separate crime. But punishing someone for conduct which predates the law is generally an unconstitutional violation of the ex post facto doctrine. Louisiana has recently held this to be the case. Similarly, in 2008, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act does not apply to persons whose acts predate the effective date of the Act.

This is an issue I expect to see a lot more of.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Criminal Defense Cases in Pittsburgh: Drug Crimes, Sex Crimes and Federal Court- Part Three

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

In last week’s post, we talked about the case of a well-respected dentist who charged with federal drug distribution offenses. Today, in the third and final part of our series on recent criminal defense cases in Pittsburgh, I’ll share with you a case currently in progress, where a Pittsburgh-area father faces charges of a sex crime, and why a preliminary hearing can be so important to a strong criminal defense.

Preliminary Hearings and Pittsburgh Family Man Facing Sexual Assault Charges

About three years ago, my client and his wife had employed a babysitter. She was approximately 15-years-old at the time, and after her job was done for the evening, my client drove her home. It was on this drive, the babysitter alleges, my client sexually-assaulted her.  She waited two years to report this to anyone.

My client, of course, denies these charges, and the case will be on trial sometime in 2011.

The reason I bring this case up is because we recently had the preliminary hearing, and I want to emphasize why it is so important that individuals facing criminal charges do not waive this critical opportunity.

The preliminary hearing determines whether there’s sufficient evidence to hold a case for further court action. And while it’s very difficult to get a case dismissed at this proceeding, it does provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the case.

In this instance, the alleged victim was required to testify, and I had the chance to cross-examine her. Based upon that, I now know the entire case, and I can begin to map our strategy.

So I tell my clients just as I’m telling you now: never waive the preliminary hearing. Attend the preliminary hearing. Confront the witnesses. Learn about the evidence. And most importantly, have your own court reporter there to create a transcript of the testimony for later use at trial. The preliminary hearing can make an enormous difference to your case and is the difference between winning and losing.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Lessons Learned from Jurors: Sex and Drug Cases Tried in Pittsburgh Criminal Court

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Our recent blog post talks about how closely jurors watch how everyone behaves in the courtroom, and this reminded me of two interesting examples I thought I’d share with you today.

I had a case involving a schoolteacher, who was accused of sexual assault on seven of his thirteen-year-old female students. While ultimately, he was acquitted, the first time around the jury convicted him.

The jury included six men and six women, and the client did not testify. Even though I believed he wasn’t guilty, I did not think he would be a good witness.

The jury convicted him on half of the charges and acquitted him on half.

I had occasion to speak with the jurors afterward. And what was interesting was, the jurors said they knew he was guilty of the charges they’d convicted him on because, as each of these young girls testified about the alleged sexual assault, he refused to look at them and instead looked down at the table.

It was from that, the jurors felt the defendant was embarrassed, ashamed and guilty.

That was an incredibly important lesson for me, not only in terms of the re-trial of this case but for all other cases since. Not evidence, but appearance, body language and the erroneous impressions jurors draw from them can make or break a case.

Another important thing I learned from years of being in front of a jury is that jurors watch how you treat your client.

Early in my career, I represented a young man who was charged with the distribution of drugs.

We had no defense to the charges, but couldn’t get a deal that made sense. So we picked a jury and went to trial.

And while I don’t recall my argument to the jury– lo and behold, the defendant was acquitted, leading me to believe I must really be a terrific lawyer.

Fortunately, about a week later I ran into one of the jurors walking down the street. He stopped me, we talked about the case, and I asked him what the basis for the acquittal was.

And he looked me in the eye and said, “Stan, we knew your client was innocent.”

I said, “Of course he was. But how did you know that?”

He said, “Well, the way you treated him. You were so nice to him and you put your arm around him. We knew that you wouldn’t have acted that way if he was a guilty person.”

Again, a fascinating lesson about human nature.

—Stanton D. Levenson

Current Sex Offense Case and the Registration Requirements of Megan’s Law

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Sex offense cases pose a particularly difficult challenge when they implicate the onerous, unfair, ineffective, and totally counter-productive Megan’s law registration requirements.

In Pennsylvania, certain sex offenses carry a ten year registration requirement, while other sex offenses mandate a lifetime registration. Failure to register is a separate crime punishable by a separate term of imprisonment.

Yesterday I represented a young man at his Preliminary Hearing for four sex abuse related offenses. Two of the offenses carried a ten year registration requirement.

Prior to the hearing, the Assistant District Attorney offered the following plea bargain: in exchange for waiving the hearing, the D.A. would withdraw two of the charges and recommend a sentence of probation.

One of the two charges that the Defendant would have been required to plead guilty to carried a ten year registration requirement. The Defendant rejected the offer.

We then had the hearing. Based upon my cross-examination of the alleged victim, I was able to persuade the District Magistrate to dismiss the two counts carrying the registration requirements.

We will have a trial in criminal court on the remaining two counts. The Magistrate’s decision deprives the D.A. of a valuable and unfair negotiating tool– the ten year registration requirement. In addition, by having the invaluable opportunity of cross-examining the alleged victim at this early stage of the proceedings, I was able to develop information which should pave the way to a successful result at trial.

–Stanton D. Levenson