False Accusations

Menstuff® has compiled information on the issue of False Accusations, primarily of child abuse.

False Accusations
Know Your Rights 
The History of Child Saving
Choosing an Attorney
Public Defenders/Court Appointed Counsel
Criminal Court
The Investigation
The Arrest
The Arraignment
Discovery
Plea bargain
Pre-Trial Process
What to do before Trial
The Trial
The Closing Arguments
The Deliberation
Reduce False-Abuse Reports
False Charges
Avoiding Kids: How Men Cope With Being Cast as Predators
Resources


Rally about family court abuses, Pittsburgh, PA

False Accusations


NASVO stands for the National Association of State VOCAL Organizations, Inc.. NASVO was founded in 1987, because we felt that VOCAL, or the Victims of Child Abuse Laws, Inc. needed a national voice, unity, and direction. NASVO is the national umbrella for approved chapters of VOCAL. Such victims include not only those who find themselves falsely or wrongly accused of child abuse and neglect, but also for foster children who find themselves abused not once, but twice by the very system set up to protect them. As an organization, we are dedicated to reform in the national and state policy of child protection as well as foster care.

We believe that those who are empowered to protect children must be accountable, professional, and uphold the highest standard of care. Towards achieving this goal, we are actively involved in public education (conferences, public speaking, writing), as well as providing information and education to those who work within the child protection system. We also sponsor legal workshops for attorneys. We have testified in legislatures throughout the country and in Congress. We established our Special Services Office to provide assistance and information on a one-on-one basis (go to Special Services Office page for detailed information). This office is often directly involved in assisting the falsely accused parents, or the foster children who are in the system due to false accusations, or violations of the federal mandates and the Federal Code of Regulations by state and county agencies (go to Federal Mandates page for further information).

Since the accused faces the possibility of going through as many as six court arenas involving a single false accusation, having qualified and experienced legal representation is vital. Therefore, NASVO also provides some suggestions to assist the falsely accused in obtaining an attorney (see the Attorney Shopping page), and provides information regarding your legal rights (see Know Your Rights! page).

Child abuse has been a nationwide concern since the early 1980's, both within the governmental structure, and in courtrooms across the country. Everyone agrees that nothing could be worse than a child suffering abuse inflicted upon them by an adult. Unfortunately, due to the lowering of standards in reporting, investigating, and gathering evidence to assist child victims, there has been an increase in cases involving false allegations of child abuse and neglect. This increase is evidenced by national statistics (go to Statistics page) which show that only one third of all cases reported are substantiated.

Such false cases are primarily due to over-reporting, the lack of proper investigation procedures, the lack of training for those who investigate, and misdirected and biased analysis of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator. Is spite of the legal presumption that anyone accused of a crime is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, in child abuse cases the general presumption by the public is that of guilt. Such a departure from the standard presumption of innocence is largely due to the dogma that was popular belief during the late 1970's and the 1980's, which was based on the popular, but sometimes erroneous, belief that "children never lie ". Unfortunately as this belief system infiltrated the training programs of social workers and law enforcement, this bias runs throughout the child protection system. Subsequently, the falsely accused individual faces an uphill battle in proving a negative: that they did not commit the crime of child abuse.

The falsely accused also faces the full impact of the legal system, and must traverse as many as five different court arenas, often upon one accusation alone. This process is extremely debilitating to the accused, both financially and emotionally, as they face the unlimited resources of the state set up to prove them guilty. Since child abuse is a crime, one may face arrest and criminal trial (go to Criminal Court). If the accuser is a natural child and has involved siblings, even non-abused siblings, the accused may find themselves fighting in an additional court arena, the juvenile court (go to Juvenile Court). If the accusation came out of a divorce custody dispute, the accused will find themselves involved in the family court (go to Family Court). If the accused is in the military they may find themselves involved in a court-martial or other military court action (go to Military Court). And if the accused is sued for the damages and future therapy of the alleged victims, they may find themselves involved in the civil court (go to Civil Court). Finally, if the accused is in a profession that requires licensing or credentials, such as teaching, nursing, or any other profession that holds a morals code, they may find themselves in a sixth court, in administrative hearings (go to Administrative Hearings).

False accusations occur for the most part in situations where the accused is vulnerable, such as in divorce custody proceedings where one parent comes to believe the behavior pattern of the child is due to abuse rather than separation trauma of divorce. Foster parents are also victims of false accusations, as foster children sometime utilize the allegation to avoid discipline or to be placed in a different home. School teachers, school bus drivers, playground attendants, virtually anyone whose private or professional life puts them in close contact with children are susceptible to false accusations.

On this site, you will be provided a history of child saving in this country, links to other resources throughout the world that will provide you a wealth of information, and a general information guide about false cases in various court arenas.

Know Your Rights 


Most falsely accused individuals believe that since they have done nothing wrong, they only need to speak with the friendly police officer or the social worker, and everything will be fine. In a perfect world, this would be true, but unfortunately, child protection units are trained to believe that by denying the crime the accused is either lying or "in denial". These individuals are trained to believe the allegation, rather than anything you can say. So here are some practical rules to follow:

1. DO NOT speak to the police without an attorney present. DO NOT go to the police station to offer a statement, as they will not require a warrant to place you into immediate custody.

2. DO NOT invite law enforcement or social service personnel into your home without a warrant. Be firm, and state that they may call your attorney, and that you have been advised that you do not have to let them in. Once you let them in, you waive your right to the provision of a search warrant. IMMEDIATELY contact an attorney.

3. DO NOT take a polygraph if offered by the agencies. Tell the agency, if offered, that you have been advised of your rights and choose NOT to take one at this time. You may take one privately through your attorney. Remember, polygraphs are not admissible in a court of law. If you take one by the state, they may place the result in their reports, and list it as probable cause for your arrest. Polygraph tests are highly susceptible to personal misinterpretation and error. If you choose to take one privately, be certain of the training and certification of the operator.

4. DO NOT attempt to contact the witnesses against you (this includes the child). To do so will cause the state to look upon you as though you are attempting to bribe or threaten a witness/victim. Contacting the state's witnesses is up to your attorney and his/her private investigator.

5. DO NOT turn to drugs or alcohol during this period in your life. Such substances cause further depression and behavior that will only serve to make you appear guilty.

6. DO go attorney shopping (see Attorney Shopping for more information).

7. DO backtrack using receipts, photographs, videos, and witnesses of your location, travels, shopping, and family outings, and create a journal as to where you were, what you were doing, and who was with you throughout the year of the allegations. THEN maintain that journal on a daily basis.

8. DO request from your attorney a private independent investigation.

If the accusing child lived with you...

1. DO do a thorough strip search of their bedroom and check for diaries, notes, letters, magazines, and drug paraphernalia. Preserve your findings and provide them to your attorney for safe-keeping (ask your attorney about his ability to maintain your discovery, as some states require that the defense turn over all information to the state prior to trial. In this case, timing is everything as to when you supply such evidence to your attorney).

2. DO obtain any and all scholastic and medical records of your child from their schools and pediatricians. This will demonstrate your child progression in school and in health prior to the allegation.

If involved in a custody visitation dispute...

1. DO maintain records of all calls from your former spouse. If allowable by your state law, TAPE RECORD all conversations (Note: Be aware of your state laws. In a majority of the states and under federal law, as long as one person is knowledgeable taping is allowed. In some states both parties to a taped conversation must be informed of the taping. In conversations involving social workers or therapists assigned to your case, taping may be utilized for impeachment purposes).

2. DO have a witness attend your visitations with you, and if possible, video tape all visitations. This will protect you and your child from additional allegations.

The History of Child Saving


Child saving isn't new. It has been around for a long time, primarily stemming from the wealthy in an effort to eliminate the poor. In the 1800's, immigrants often lost their children to wealthy land owners and merchants because of their grinding poverty, and the inability to converse in English. These "wards" were often utilized as indentured servants.

Present day child savers often point to the story of little Mary Ellen, who in 1874, was beaten so badly that a woman by the name of Mrs. Wheeler, who worked for the St. Luke's Methodist Mission, had to intervene on her behalf. In desperation, Mrs. Wheeler turned to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and finally had Mary Ellen removed from her home. Today's child savers point out that this is a shining example of the long ignored need for government intervention for families with abused children. What they don't tell you is that little Mary Ellen wasn't abused by her parents. She was a Civil War orphan, and the Department of Charities had placed Mary Ellen in a foster home. It was the foster mother who had beaten the child within an inch of her life.

By 1933, 'poor laws' were established in numerous cities that allowed children to be removed from poor or "immoral" families. This was particularly hard on immigrant families, who by virtue of their inability to speak English were often subjected to grinding poverty and considered both immoral and illiterate by the upper class citizens. Their children were often ripped away from them (to protect them of course, from the fate of their parents), and placed as wards in the homes of the more elite families of the city. These children were often subjected to becoming no more than indentured servants, and often were abused physically, emotionally, and sexually.

This type of "intervention" became so common in New York City, that the that the Orphan Trains were established, to ship these children across the American countryside, displaying them at whistle-stops like cattle, and "adopting" them out to farmers and shopkeepers. Siblings were often separated. Many were abused, and neglected, and some abandoned.

In the early 1970's, hearings were held in Congress regarding the long ignored issue of child abuse. Subsequent to these hearings, Congress enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (see Federal Mandates page) which provided federal funding to states with which to engage in child protection investigation, intervention, and criminal prosecutions. In order to receive this matching and additional federal funding, states had to come into compliance with the federal law, by enacting matching laws that provided for anonymous reporting, mandated reporting, immunity to reporting parties, and additional grants for the 'successful prosecution' of child abusers.

Unfortunately, there were NO funds made equally available for the defense of the indigent. There was no well-rounded, research based training for those who were to investigate, and all funding was based upon the head-count of children labeled as "abused". Thus at the end of every fiscal year, the numbers of children reported as abused (see Statistics Page) either increases or stays the same, but never decreases. To do so would impact the system for the following year by cutting the head-count basis for annual funding. This would mean cutbacks in personnel.

During this same period of time, the federal government was cutting back on other social services, placing caps on the funding of other branches of social services, but providing unlimited funding for child protection. Immediately we began to see a shifting of social services personnel from food stamps and geriatrics, into the new unlimited offices of child protection.

It is clear that every state and province of the United States has enacted laws that support a child abuse system which matches the standards provided by CAPTA. While the original intent was to protect children from abuse, the result of these laws have been devastating.

Today an estimated 700,000 foster children languish in foster and state institutional care. In order to lower this number, like the infamous Orphan Trains of the 1930's, Congress just this year enacted the Safe Adoptions and Family Environment Act (SAFE Act) (see Federal Mandates). Under this new federal law, states will receive $4,000 to $6,000 for each child that is adopted out to a family, or some other "planned permanent placement". NASVO fears that language such as "planned permanent placementî"will evolve into government funded orphanages, much like those of an earlier decade, warehousing children in order to maintain the status quo of the child protection system.

SAFE also provides additional funding for computerized adoption assistance programs to allow the adoption of children over state lines, and if deemed necessary internationally. Further, the time frame for termination of parental rights of natural parents of children in foster care, has been shortened from 18 months to "no shorter than six months to no longer than one year". This shortening of time for termination of parental rights comes at a time when juvenile court judges hear an average of as many as 50 cases in a single day, with scarce time to hear the individual aspects of each case. NASVO fears that this will further impact the rights of falsely accused families, particularly in the majority of abuse cases which stem from poverty issues being mislabeled as neglect.

Choosing an Attorney


1. First contact and make initial appointments at three attorneys' offices. Be certain that their expertise is in criminal law.

2. Gather together and copy the information of your case. Do no provide originals. Make 3 copies.

3. Sit down and prepare a chronology of events leading up to the charges.

4. To save time, offer to fax a copy of the chronology and a brief statement to the proposed attorney, so they will have a copy in advance.

5. Dress appropriately. Try to stay focused on the facts of the case, and avoid going off on tangents regarding peripheral issues. This is most difficult due to the emotional responses you feel.

6. Ask each of the attorneys the following questions:

a. How many cases of child abuse/neglect has he completed? He should be experienced in child abuse cases and understand the amount of work involved to prepare for trial.

b. How many ended in pleas and how many has he taken to trial? You need a trial attorney... one who is experienced in the criminal trial process. Be certain he has a good number of child abuse trials under his belt, and that they ended favorably.

c. Does he utilize expert witnesses? If so, in what discipline (psychology to explain the vulnerability of children who are interrogated, medical to explain any medical findings in your case, etc.) and who are they? What will they cost?

d. Does he utilize a private investigator? If so, is that investigator experienced in child abuse cases? What will this cost?

e. How long has he been in practice?

f. What is his background before becoming a criminal defense attorney?

g. He is interested in actively involving himself in your case and interviewing your witnesses.

7. After you have seen all three attorneys pick the best one or make other appointments, until you find one that fits your needs. Remember that some attorneys offer a free consultation, but that those who charge may be better attorneys in the long run. You need to take care on your choices.

8. Do not pay anything without first seeing and agreeing to a retainer agreement in writing.

Do NOT choose an attorney ONLY because:

a. They were recommended by your best friend, or

b. They are of your religion, or

c. You believe them to be sent to you by God, or

d. They were your divorce attorney, or

e. They were your boss' business partner or lawyer, or

f. They are a relative,

... Unless they are also highly qualified criminal trial attorneys as well.

Public Defenders/Court Appointed Counsel


If you are poor or indigent and cannot afford a private attorney, you will have an attorney appointed to you, either a private attorney who is listed with the court, or a Public Defender. These attorneys are usually underpaid, and overworked. Attempt to find out how much time he can spend on your case. Here are some suggestions to assist you with a court appointed attorney.

1. If your PD fails to visit you or meet with you, and/or return your calls, you should request the court to appoint another counsel. Attorneys are to be diligent in their contact with you. A common complaint is that they fail to communicate with the defendant prior to trial. Communication with your attorney is a must, as child abuse cases require pre-trial work and information for the defense must begin with you.

2. In most jurisdictions a "Marsden" Hearing is allowed. This hearing is to allow the court to hear the defendant's problems with their court appointed counsel and appoint a new one. But one must show the court serious problems, such as lack of contact and communication. To seek a Marsden hearing, one needs to write a letter to the judge, his appointed counsel, and the prosecutor (mail certified), stating the problems and requesting the hearing. The letter must be succinct and truthful.

3. Have your PD contact NASVO/VOCAL for assistance, information, research, and communication with experts and other attorneys who are experienced in these cases. We can help.

4. Save what money you may have toward expert witnesses. The state will pay very little and an expert witness is essential to win your case. The state will have their own stable of witnesses and you need to have one who will explain the errors of the state and their witnesses by providing scientific research and opinion as to why this child accused you. They can also refute the state's evidence if faulty. The jury needs to understand that what the state offers isn't always the truth or based on scientific standards.

Criminal Court


Warning: The following is for general information purposes only, and not legal advice. We urge anyone involved in a court matter to consult with legal counsel. Remember that laws and court rules vary from state to state, and the following is general information only.

Child abuse is a crime, as it rightfully should be. But not all allegations of child abuse end up in criminal court. As earlier explained, allegations of child abuse can end up in any number of different court arenas, depending on the circumstances, and the issue involved in the case. Here, we are describing the criminal court arena and what one can expect when involved in this particular court arena. Here we will also make recommendations that may assist you and your attorney in the case.

The Investigation...


When a law enforcement agency receives a report of suspected child abuse/neglect, after review by the intake officer, law enforcement may begin an investigation. During this investigation, they may speak to the reporting party, any witnesses, and the child involved. This is usually done prior to any contact with the accused.

The child may be questioned by police at their school and in conjunction with other agencies, such as the local child protection agency, and may remove the child (if in the care of the alleged offender) and place them in the care of CPS. In some jurisdictions, state law requires the child have a support person with them during questioning by police. In some jurisdictions, all or some alleged sexual abuse victims must be interviewed on tape. Check your local state laws for verification, as such requirements may be of benefit to your attorney in criminal, civil, or juvenile dependency court.

If allowable by state law, we recommend that parents hire a local attorney for a minimum fee (we've had such a fee as low as a dollar), and list that attorney as their child's legal representative. Place his/her name and phone number on their school emergency card specifying that should any government agent come to the school and question them, the school or day care facility will be obligated to call that attorney. Having a legal representative with a child during interrogation not only protects the record of that interview, but also prevents that child from being intimidated by the authorities during an investigation.

Law enforcement also have the right in most states to make what is called a "pretext call" which they will call the accused, and have the accusing child get on the line and attempt to get the accused to make an incriminating statement to the child. These calls are taped and can be used against you in a court of law as evidence. We have had such minor things as stuttering being utilized as evidence of guilt. We have seen other cases where after the child has alleged abuse, the accused stated, "I'm sorry you believe this..." and that was taken to be an apology, or an admission of guilt. DO NOT speak to the accusing child. If such a call catches you off guard, remember to tell the child that you do not wish to talk to them, and hang up.

The child may be taken to a child abuse unit for medical examination. This examination will determine whether or not the child has been sexually or physically abused. Understand that most of these units allow physicians assistants or nurses to do the examination. Also most are not up on the latest medical technology in order to make a determination. They are usually on the payroll of the county child protection agency and may be biased. Most are trained to validate even the most lacking case rather than risk a child abuser go free. Reports from these agencies will usually state that in spite of the fact that the child's physical body is "within normal limits" that "the examination is consistent to child abuse." This double talk does not mean they have actually found any signs of abuse, but that some forms of abuse do not leave evidence. They are trained to maintain the implication that abuse took place in order to protect the child.

Do NOT go down to talk to the police. Once you voluntarily go to the police department you may be arrested without a warrant... since your presence is voluntary it is presumed you are free to leave at any time. Anything you may say or how you may act will be held against you. Remember that the police are trying to solve a case.... not find to "help you" with a false accusation.

Do NOT attempt to contact the alleged victim or his/her guardian/parent. To do so risks additional accusations of attempting to threaten or bribe a witness.

Do NOT speak to any law enforcement officer other than to state that you did not abuse any child. STRESS you are obtaining an attorney, and s/he will call them immediately.

Do NOT let a police officer in your home without a warrant. To do so waives your right to a search warrant.

DO be POLITE. Do not be aggressive or use abusive language. Such actions will only make matters worse.

DO seek an experienced trial attorney who has taken several child abuse cases to court (see Attorney Shopping). If you cannot afford one, you will have the opportunity to have an attorney appointed to you once an arrest is completed.

If that attorney does not have an in-house private investigator, seek an experienced, licensed private investigator.

If you are "detained" (not an arrest), do not discuss anything with law enforcement without demanding that an attorney be present. Do not speak to social workers.

The Arrest


If you are lucky enough to have an attorney before any arrest warrant is issued, you may ask him/her to contact the police to be advised as to when an arrest warrant is going to be issued. Your attorney then can plan with the authorities for a "walk-through" booking, which avoids the nastiness of being handcuffed and taken to jail and having to wait for days or longer for bail to be posted.

During a walk through, your attorney will take you in, and there you will be booked. photographed, and then sent to a holding cell while your attorney attempts to get you out on your own recognizance (an OR release). This process avoids the wait of jail, and the often-expensive posting of bail. Most individuals can be allowed this process as long as they have no other offenses on their record, have a job and a home, and the victim was not brutalized.

If you are arrested and without an attorney, you will need to contact a bail bondsman as quickly as possible. If impossible to contact a bail bondsman from jail, you need to have a friend or family member contact one immediately.

A good bail bond company is valuable as they have several ways within which they can post bail. They can take property or a lien on property in lieu of full bail outlay. They usually require 10% payment every year of the entire amount of the bond established by the judge at arraignment. For instance, bail set at $ 5,000 will be $500, payable annually. If you choose you may pay your bail in full, and avoid an annual fee.

Be aware that judges are often given mandatory bail bond amounts or unlimited bail bond amounts to levy in child abuse cases, and we have seen bail set at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Once you are in the jail do NOT speak to anyone. Prosecutors often have "jail-house" snitches that work with them in exchange for a lesser sentence on their own matter if they testify against you, saying that you "confessed" in jail. Keep to yourself.

Request that your spouse or other close family member or friend do the running for you in obtaining a bail bondsman. It is vital that you can get out of jail prior to trial to allow you to continue working to pay for your needs through trial.

Arraignment


Before you are appointed an attorney (if indigent), or allowed to post bail, (and if you have not been allowed the "walk through" process, you will be brought to court and charges will be read to you. You will then be asked to enter a plea. If falsely accused, we recommend that you plead not guilty. It is here that you will be asked if you require a court-appointed attorney. If you do not own real estate or a home, and are low income, you can apply for a public defender or a court-appointed attorney. Since public defenders' offices are very busy, we recommend that you obtain a private attorney if possible. However, remember, private attorneys typically will request at least a $10,000 retainer.

Discovery


Once you are arraigned, your are to received the "discovery" or the details of the investigation and the evidence the state has against you. Usually, you will only obtain the police reports, as the case continues to be investigated for trial purposes. Your attorney should issue a Motion for Discovery ... a document that requests the judge to order the state to provide any and all documents they may have and to continue to provide any and all new information up through trial. The judge always grants these motions. 

Most states now have "reciprocal discovery" laws... which means anything you turn over to your attorney will also be turned over to the prosecutor. You need to discuss with your attorney just what needs to be discovered by the state immediately and what might be better to discover later. One needs to know that their evidence is quality evidence that has no holes in it prior to turning it over the state. To do otherwise can give the state an advantage and be used against you.

Plea bargain


Your attorney should visit you in jail and immediately work toward a lowering of bail to release you. S/he should also visit you to get an overview of your side of the case. In most jurisdictions, public defenders and court appointed attorneys are on a fee basis, and paid a flat fee per case. This fee base is usually very low, and when combined with a high caseload, most public defenders will attempt to plead a case out... or plea bargain. You will be approached with an offer of less prison time should you plead guilty. You will be pressured and told that you will face life in prison if you go to trial versus a few years if you take a plea. For those who are falsely accused, we recommend that plea bargains are not acceptable. HOWEVER, in some circumstances, a plea bargain may be an only choice. For instance, if the accused is aged or too ill and frail to undergo the rigors of trial.

IF YOU ARE LOOKING AT A PLEA, here are some things you MUST check out before taking the plea bargain...

Sex offender registration: Anyone convicted (by plea or verdict) is required to register at the local police department annually as a sex offender. Depending on how you are registered (as a violent or non-violent), your neighbors may be notified that you, a sex offender, is living nearby and where. Your photo, name and address will appear on public records including most neighborhood notification web-sites. Registration is for life in most states, and failure to register where you live and when you move is punishable by prison. This process is known as "Megan's Law" and has caused vigilantism by neighbors. Landlords are not amenable to having an offender living in their apartments, and the offender's innocent family members often suffer the fall-out.

Sex Offender Counseling Programs: In virtually every state, convicted (by plea or verdict) is required to attend a sex offender counseling program. In most of these programs, the counseling is life-long, never-ending. Failure to "confess" the offense means that you are not amenable to counseling and therefore a danger to society. If your plea bargain is an "Alford Plea," such a violation (non-disclosure) can send you to prison for the full term pursuant under law for the original charges.

Probation Requirements: In some plea bargains, the probation has requirements that are often not easy to live with. Such burdensome requirements may be that the convicted party cannot be with children at any time... even his/her own.

Pre-Trial Process


After arraignment (and hopefully bail or release), the District Attorney has the right to either take the matter into a preliminary hearing, or obtain a grand jury indictment.

Preliminary hearings usually take place in Municipal Court (lower than Superior) and the state must show the judge that they have probably cause with which to try you in Superior Court. In many states, the accusing parties need not testify, and only the police and investigators will testify as to their finding. The defendant need not testify, and usually does not under his/her attorney's direction. The reason for the defendant to be silent is because the attorney needs to know the defendant's background and receive the full discovery from the state. Further, rather than let the state know everything about the defendant, it is best to first obtain all the details held within the state's case first. Many compare a trial process to a game of chess. Unfortunately, for the accused, little of this process can be compared to a game. It is your life!

If you are allowed to have a preliminary hearing, be prepared to order the transcripts. Whether the police testify or the accusing child/parties testify, these transcripts can be used in trial later to show the discrepancies in testimony and allegations, should the story change... and in false cases it usually does. Remember that when one is confabulating an allegation, it grows and changes with time. The truth never changes.

The District Attorney also has the option of obtaining a grand jury indictment. A grand jury usually consists of 12 average citizens in your county. They usually serve one year. The district attorney has their ear completely. He can bring forth just enough of his evidence to convince the grand jury that you are a horrible person. The DA does not have to disclose everything. You are not always advised that the grand jury have been called to look at your case, but if you are you should immediately contact your attorney (or hire one) and get him to communicate with the DA. Sometimes, a defense attorney may want you to give your side of the story to the grand jury. But usually, attorneys do not want to expose their clients to questioning without protection of an attorney, as allowed in a court. In grand jury hearings, the grand jury runs the hearing, and the DA orchestrates what can occur. As the saying goes, "one can indict a ham sandwich in a grand jury hearing."

Once indicted or passed by the preliminary hearing, you will be arraigned in Superior Court (or in NY, Supreme Court). This is much like your arraignment after arrest and you will again enter a plea. We advise those falsely accused to enter a "not guilty' plea, unless you have entered into a plea bargain (see our warnings on plea bargains). A date for trial will be decided on, as well as dates for pre-trial conferences and motion hearings will be decided mutually between the defense, the state, and the court.

At this point you will also be asked whether you want a trial by jury or before only the judge. We always recommend going before a jury. The reasons are:

With a jury you have 12 people making a decision, not just one.

With a jury trial, if convicted, you have the option of requesting the setting aside of the verdict and a motion for retrial.... Before only a judge such options are not useful.

Pre trial conferences are often for the offering and accepting of plea-bargains, changes in trial dates, and other details. Motion hearings are used for defining the parameters of the trial. Motions like Motions In Limine (pronounced "en lim-in- nay") are to lay down barriers of what the state or the defense should exclude. For instance, the defense may want to exclude a DUI history of the defendant since it happened many years ago and has nothing to do with the present case. This is done so as not to contaminate the jury emotionally on issues that have nothing to do with the issues of the case before them. Another example is to exclude non-scientific evidence, such as the Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, which has been used in the past as proof that a child has been abused, when in fact, it has since been debunked in courts all over the country. Other motions may be Motion for Admissions, which is the opposite of In Limine and allow for the admissions of certain scientific evidence or expertise... or information from another court. Continuing or Specific Motions for Discovery and subpoenas are also issued during this time.

What to do before Trial


If the accusing child lived with you prior to the accusation, we recommend searching that child's room for any and all notes, diaries, or books, videos, and tapes. Check these items for what may appear as peer influences toward making accusations, any drug paraphernalia or discussions about drugs or alcohol, or cult activities. After itemizing these findings, package them up and place them in a safely deposit box or any safe place outside your home. Speak to your attorney about your findings, and find out when s/he will require them to comply with any reciprocal discovery rules.

Go back into time and attempt to recreate your whereabouts during the period covering the allegations. Gather old receipts, photos, videos, and canceled checks that would prove where you were and what you were doing. Attempt to contact all witnesses who may remember seeing you or being with you. Create a journal for this purpose.

If the accusing child is your own, access any and all school and medical records. Such records can prove the child's well being and health, when the allegation demonstrates the opposite.

Keep active. Do not become reliant on prescription drugs if at all possible, and avoid alcohol, which is a depressant. If you have a religious faith, cling to it and your church, synagogue or temple. If you have no religious faith, seek spiritually calming methods such as meditation. The strength of the human spirit is vital during these trying times.

You will have questions as you go, and you should write them down and then once a list had been created, call your attorney and ask the listed questions. Do NOT call your attorney daily. Weekly at most. This will save you money and him/her time. Very often their paralegal will be able to answer most questions. You may also call NASVO/VOCAL for general information.

You will also need one or two expert witnesses. If a sexual abuse case, you will need any and all evidence from the state regarding the medical examinations and any and all slides, and culposcopic photographs/video (a culposcope is a magnifying device used during the taking pictures or video taping of a forensic sexual examination). These evidences are then provided to your own expert physician. If the allegations includes physical abuse, all x-rays, medical histories, and prenatal history (if an infant is involved) must be provided to your expert. If the alleged child victim has been in "therapy" your attorney needs to subpoena any and all records, tapes, and notes by the therapists involved. S/he should also obtain the resume' vitas (education and work history) of the state's expert witnesses. We have often found that the state's experts are lacking in education and experience. Again, provide all of this to your own expert witnesses. Your attorney should have a list of such experts.

Remember: A good trial attorney will have several face-to-face meetings with you prior to trial. She/he will prepare you for trial. If your attorney is not communicating with you regularly, you need to alert her/him to your concern about preparation. If they continue, you may need to find a new attorney. Read below as to what you need to do during trial....

The Trial


Always dress for trial. Men should wear suits (unless summer or in New Orleans, then wear dress slacks, dress shirt and tie), should be clean shaven (or beard neatly trimmed close), and have short barbered hair. Whether you are a free spirit or not, remember being accused of child abuse alone is an uphill battle to make yourself appear acceptable to the jury. Long hair and beard and sloppy dirty clothes will only make that hill even steeper.

Women should dress like old-fashioned schoolteachers. Hair neatly done. If long, hair should be pulled back or up. Take care not to wear too much makeup. Dresses suits or skirts and blouses, with nylons and shoes are suitable apparel. Nice dress slacks are also acceptable. Low-cut tight tops, exposed tattoos, and skirts above the knees are inappropriate. Jeans, shorts, flip-flops, and tee shirts are also inappropriate, as are nose-rings, face piercing jewelry, or wild colored hair. Such things distract from who you are as a person, and give the impression that you are not to be taken seriously.

Remember that there is NO second chance for a first impression! If you have trouble obtaining suitable clothes, tell your attorney and they can locate a community closet for your needs.

The first phase of the trial is in jury selection. The jury is chosen from a "jury pool," usually thirty or more people. The pool will fill the courtroom, and the court will draw 8 to 14 names (depending on state statute). These first six jurors and two alternates, or twelve jurors and two alternates will be seated in the jury box. Each of them will give information about themselves. In some jurisdictions, this information is already filled out in a form. In some jurisdictions, the judge will "vior dire" (pronounced "vwah - deer") the potential jurors and in others the attorneys are allowed to do the vior dire. The vior dire process is the questioning of the jurors to see if they qualify to be unbiased, and completely nonjudgmental prior to the trial. Your attorney will need to know the following about each juror out of vior dire:

Do they know any party in the case?

Have they or anyone they know experienced child abuse?

Have they or anyone they know have a child who was abused/neglected?

Have they read or heard anything about the case in the media?

Are they married, divorced, or single?

What are their occupations (beware of abuse counselors, social workers, or law enforcement that are trained to believe all accusations)?

Do they have children (beware of those with children the same age or younger as the alleged victim... this can cause a sympathetic comparison and detract decision-making)

What is their education? (you want intelligent people with common sense).

Do they like television talk shows? Or read weeklies like the National Inquirer, Star? (such entertainment often provides sensationalized information about child abuse, rather than information based upon scientific fact, and may trigger a pre-judgment reaction prior to trial).

Do they believe that children "never lie?" (All people lie... and children in child abuse cases are not always truthful, but most are also not actually "lying." In false positive cases, children often embrace what their interrogators are telling them as the truth, when in fact it is not. The jury is going to have to educated to that during the trial. But if a juror has already embraced the concept that children "never lie" they are biased and should be excused.)

Your attorney will probably have other questions as well. In states where the judge is the one who provides the vior dire, both sides are allowed to submit questions to the judge for that purpose. Each side will be allowed so many excused, and after fulfilling that number, must ask the judge for permission to excuse and give a reason. The judge may or may not allow the excuse. The number is based on local court rules.

It is advisable that you take notes. Remember not to show any emotion. Stay as calm as possible. You may confer in whispers to your attorney should you feel that s/he needs to know something. Taking notes through the jury selection and the trial is vital, as you may notice something your attorney may miss.

Once the jury is selected, the opening statements are made. The prosecution will be first, and s/he will paint you in the worst possible light. The defense will sit quiet until they have their turn. Opening statements are important to the trial as they set the tone. Take notes on the prosecutions statements as to what s/he is saying they will prove. Hopefully, their case will be lacking and when they fall short of what they provide in opening statements and that can be utilized in your attorney's closing statements at the end of the trial.

The prosecution will put on their case first. They usually call up the police who investigated and maybe a social worker. Remember that if you have had a preliminary hearing, the transcripts may be used to impeach these witnesses should they deviate from their original remarks. But remember your attorney may want to hold any impeachable testimony issues to later in the trial when such a point would be more beneficial. Your attorney can recall a witness if needed. It is for this reason you need to be in communication with your attorney as prior to trial as your case progresses. You need to know the game plan by the time you are in the courtroom.

The child victims may be next, and this is most difficult on the accused, particularly if the child is their own. DO NOT be surprised how this child will appear and what they will say. Remember they have been under the influence of the state and the state's workers for many months prior to trial. These children are usually subjected to two to three times a week of "therapy" which in reality is an interrogation session. We view this "treatment" as a brainwashing technique similar to that, which has been used by warring nations on POW's for decades. When an individual is removed from their home/family/the accused, and then repeatedly told adverse information about their home/family/the accused, and not allowed to see or hear from those parties; over time, the adverse information becomes their truth. Children in particular are exceptionally vulnerable to such influence.

No matter what the child says, do not make any movement or say anything that will distract the child or the court will ask you to leave. Such disruptions may also be viewed as your attempt to signal the child during their testimony. Any family members must also maintain quiet as well for the same reason.

The state will also provide their experts and they will provide what they believe as proof of abuse and their opinion as to whether the evidence is consistent with abuse. They then will bring on other witnesses; some that may have been around at the time the child made his/her allegations. In false cases, such witnesses are usually close friends and family of the accusing child's accusing parent.

With each and every witness, your attorney will be given the opportunity to cross-examine them, so it is important that if you know anything about these witnesses prior to trial, that you give any and all information to your attorney before you are in court.

Your attorney will also be making "objections" during the trial, and this is also important to keep the court aware of the state's attempts to unduly influence the jury, or attempt to do something that is not allowable under law or the rules of evidence. These objections are useful later if you are convicted and you will need such a record for an appeal.

After the state "rests" the defense will have its turn. The decision to put you on the stand will be up to your attorney. The decision not to put the defendant on the stand is usually because of a past criminal record, and not wanting the juror to hear about a criminal history that may taint their judgment of you in this case. But the decision to take the stand is literally up to the defendant. Such a decision should be made before trial, and should be discussed at length.

We usually recommend that a defendant take the stand if at all possible, as we have questioned numerous jurors after trial and found that they feel that if a defendant does not take the stand, they are most probably guilty. After all, why wouldn't an innocent party wish to testify strongly as to their innocence, unless they have something to hide? Again, however, a good attorney will be cautious on this issue if his/her client has a checkered past... and wisely so.

If the defendant does take the stand (and they usually do), they should be as calm as possible. ACT like an innocent person.... Sit up straight, be honest in your answers, and when answering LOOK AT THE JURY. They need to look at you as an earnest, honest person who can look them in the eye.

Never say more than what the question requires. Do not go into long descriptions.... Unless asked. For instance:

Q: Did you ever touch this child in a sexual way?

A: NO. Absolutely not!

Do not go into some long drawn out statement as to why you believe the child may have confused toilet training with molestation. This only looks like someone who is grasping at excuses.

Do not lose your cool when badgered... and the DA will badger you. They want to get you angry and to lose control. Be calm, and let your attorney object to the shabby treatment.

If there is an objection by either side, you must stop and wait for the judge to overrule it or sustain it. The judge will then tell the questioning attorney what to do, or will tell you to answer the question.

The Closing Arguments


Since the burden of proof is on the state, they have the advantage of not only going first in closing arguments, but also a second chance after your attorney provides his. We view this as unfair in child abuse cases, since the playing field in these cases is far from even. After all, the accusation alone is enough to turn any juror's stomach in disgust... long before trial begins. The state has the child under their complete and total influence during the months preceding the trial. The defense has no access whatsoever... except in some states where controlled depositions are allowed. So your attorney's closing arguments must be a brilliant work of art. S/he must play to the politics of the judge and the emotions of the jury, while tying in the evidence of the defense, and derailing the evidence of the state. It again is for this reason we strongly suggest your obtaining an attorney who has experience in trials. An attorney whose cases are predominantly plea bargains would not have the experience required in these cases.

The Deliberation


After closing arguments, the judge will explain to the jury the requirements of the forms they must fill out and the instructions they must follow while they deliberate the case. They then are excused to the jury room. They are allowed to tell the bailiff to retrieve any evidence or transcript of the trial the need to review.

You will wait. Usually outside in the hallway or in your attorney's office. There are many so-called theories about jury deliberation. Some say the longer they take for a decision, the better the chances are for acquittal. Others say that's the opposite. We can tell you that juries, like the individuals who sit on it, are as variable as snowflakes. There is no pat way of reading them. We have seen deliberations that lasted 45 minutes and came forth with an acquittal. We have seen them deliberate for an hour and come forward with a guilty verdict. We have seen acquittals take days, and a verdict of guilty take a week. It depends on the case, the number of counts, the difficulty of the instructions provided to them, and the way the case was battled out in court.

During this time you will need your spiritual strength and family around you.

If the jury acquits, you will be free to go. If not, your attorney should have already prepared a notice to the court for a motion to set aside the verdict and a motion for retrial. They should also request you remain free through sentencing and a continuation of bail should you give notice of appeal.

We wish you the best in this nightmare.
Source: www.nasvo.org (No longer active.)

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